What is Hodgkin’s Disease? Hodgkin’s disease (also known as Hodgkin’s lymphoma, HD or HL) is a cancerous disease derived from cells of the lymphatic system. Lymphatic tissue includes the lymph nodes and other organs of the body that are part of the body’s immune and blood-producing systems.The lymph nodes are located in the neck, underarms and groin, but are also present in other parts of the body such as the abdomen, chest and pelvis. There are no non-cancerous (benign) types of Hodgkin’s disease.
Certain similarities exist between HD and leukemia, inasmuch as both forms of cancer involve the abnormal growth of white blood cells. HD, however, originates in the lymphatic system, whereas leukemia originates in the blood or bone marrow.
Hodgkin’s disease, a less common form of lymphoma than non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma (NHL), was named after Dr. Thomas Hodgkin (1798-1866), an English physician working at Guy’s Hospital in England. He first identified the unique features of this particular type of cancer in 1832.
The cancer cells involved in HD are called Reed-Sternberg cells and are named after the two doctors who first described the cells as specific to the disease. These cells are different from the cells present in NHL and other types of cancer.
Types of Hodgkin’s Lymphoma
The disease is divided into four main types based on their histopathology (appearance of the tumor under the microscope): Nodular Sclerosis, Mixed Cellularity, Lymphocyte Depleted and Lymphocyte Predominant. Occasionally, scientists also refer to a fifth type, called “Unclassified.”
Although the types vary in the extent to which they are aggressive, all four main types have in common the presence of a special cell known as the Reed-Sternberg (RS) cell. According to current scientific opinion, the RS cell is a type of malignant B cell.
HD arises from abnormal white blood cells (lymphocytes). Normally, healthy B cells (B lymphocytes) are the ones that produce antibodies that help fight infections.
What Are the Causes?
Despite the fact that HD has been researched more than any other type of lymphoma, a single cause for the disease has yet to be established. Several risk factors, however, have been identified, including infection by the Epstein-Barr virus, the presence of RS cells, general immune system impairment, exposure to environmental carcinogens, and a family history of Hodgkin’s disease.
Treatment for Hodgkin’s Lymphoma
Due to the rapid advances in diagnosis and treatment and the encouraging findings from the many internationally based clinical trials, more than eighty percent of patients with HD can be completely cured.
Treatment for HD usually involves radiation therapy, either alone or in combination with chemotherapy. In addition, encouraging results are currently being reported using immunotherapy with monoclonal antibodies.