Overview of lymphoma in young people
Lymphoma is a rare childhood illness with only about 100 children in Australia being diagnosed each year. It is the most common cancer in young people aged 15-29 years and the 3rd most common in children up to 14 years of age.
Many young people, even with advanced lymphoma can be cured after standard first-line treatments.
Lymphomas are a group of cancers of a type of white blood cell called lymphocytes, that live mostly in our lymphatic system. They develop when lymphocytes, which are a type of white blood cell, develop DNA mutations which causes them to divide and grow uncontrollably, resulting in lymphoma. There are two main types of lymphoma, Hodgkin lymphoma and non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL).
Lymphoma can be further divided into:
- Indolent (slow growing) lymphoma
- Aggressive (fast-growing) lymphoma
- B-cell lymphoma develop from abnormal B-cell lymphocytes & are the most common, accounting for around 85% of all lymphomas (all ages)
- T-cell lymphoma develop from abnormal T-cell lymphocytes and account for around 15% of all lymphomas (all ages).
What is the cause
In most cases of lymphoma, the cause is not known. Unlike other cancers, we don’t know of any life-style choices that result in lymphoma, so there is nothing you have done or haven’t done that has caused you (or your child) to get lymphoma. It is not infectious and cannot be passed onto other people. What we do know is that special proteins or genes are damaged (become mutated) and then grow uncontrollably.
Where do young people get treatment?
Most children will be treated at a specialist children’s hospital however, young people aged 15-18 years can be referred by their GP to either a Children’s (paediatric) hospital or an adult hospital. Young people over 18 years will normally be treated in an adult hospital.
Some treatments may mean you need to stay in hospital, while other treatments may be given in day unit setting where you have your treatment, and then go home on the same day.
Types of lymphoma young people get
There are two main types of lymphoma, Hodgkin lymphoma and non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL).
Hodgkin lymphoma (HL)
Hodgkin lymphoma is rare in children less that 5 years of age, but is more common in adolescents and young adults. However, it can affect people of all ages including babies and older adults.
It is an aggressive cancer of B-cell lymphocytes and one of the most common types of cancer children get. Of all children aged 0-14 years with lymphoma, about 4 in every 10 will have a subtype of Hodgkin Lymphoma.
The two main subtypes of Hodgkin lymphoma (HL) that are:
- Classical Hodgkin lymphoma: the more common subtype of Hodgkin lymphoma and is characterised by the presence of large, abnormal Reed-Sternberg cells.
- Nodular lymphocyte predominant Hodgkin lymphoma: which involves variants of Reed-Sternberg cells called ‘popcorn’ cells. The popcorn cells often have a protein on them called CD20, which Classical Hodgkin Lymphoma does not have.
Non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL)
NHL can be either aggressive (fast growing) or indolent (slow growing) in behaviour and happens when either your B-cell or T-cell lymphocytes become cancerous.
There are about 75 different subtypes of non-Hodgkin lymphoma. The 4 most commonly seen in children are listed below, you can click on them to find more information.
- Paediatric Diffuse Large B-cell Lymphoma (DLBCL)
- Paediatric Burkitt’s Lymphoma
- Paediatric Lymphoblastic Lymphoma
- Paediatric Anaplastic Large Cell Lymphoma (ALCL)
Prognosis of lymphoma in young people
The prognosis is very good for most young people with lymphoma. Many young people with lymphoma can be cured with standard treatment that includes chemotherapy, even when they are first diagnosed with an aggressive or advanced lymphoma. To learn more about prognosis for different types of lymphoma in young people, please see the subtype pages listed above.
Sadly a small number of young people do not respond as well to treatments. Ask your doctor (or your child’s doctor) about what to expect and how likely it is that your lymphoma will be cured.
Long-term survival and treatment options depend on a range of factors, including:
- your age when you are first diagnosed with lymphoma.
- the stage of the lymphoma.
- what subtype of lymphoma you have.
- how the lymphoma responds to treatment.
Treatment for lymphoma
You (or your child) will need treatment and that may include chemotherapy (often including immunotherapy) and sometimes radiation therapy too. Depending on the type of lymphoma, different chemotherapy agents are used for different types of lymphoma.
The doctors will take into consideration many factors about the lymphoma and general health of your child to decide when and what treatment is required. This is based on:
Information and supports for parents and caregivers
If you are a parent or carer of a child who has been diagnosed with lymphoma, it can be a stressful and emotional experience. There is no right or wrong reaction.
It is important to allow yourself and your family time to process and acknowledge the diagnosis. It is also important that you do not carry the weight of this diagnosis on your own as there are a number of support organisations that are here to help you and your family during this time.
You can always contact our Lymphoma Care Nurses by clicking the contact us button at the bottom of this page.
Other resources you may find helpful are listed below: