Hodgkin’s lymphoma is a tumour where, at first, the lymph nodes become enlarged due to the accumulation of abnormal lymphatic cells; in later stages, the disease spreads outside the lymph nodes. This disease occurs more often in people in their early 20s and those over 50.

The disease has been named after English doctor Thomas Hodgkin who first described the disease in 1832.

Hodgkin’s lymphoma has been studied more than any other type of lymphoma. Quick advancements have been made in the diagnosis and treatment of the disease and Hodgkin’s lymphoma is cured in ca 80% of patients.

How Hodgkin’s lymphoma develops

Usually, Hodgkin’s lymphoma starts in the lymph nodes. As all lymphatic organs of the body are connected, the abnormal lymphatic cells can move via lymph vessels. Therefore, Hodgkin’s lymphoma spreads to other lymph nodes of the body. Hodgkin’s lymphoma may also spread to other regions and other organs outside the lymphatic system. Unlike other lymphomas, Hodgkin’s lymphoma spreads from one lymph node region to another.

Most Hodgkin’s lymphoma patients have abnormal cells called Reed-Sternberg cells. The presence of only these cells doesn’t mean that the person has Hodgkin’s lymphoma. To confirm the diagnosis, other cells and characteristics typical of Hodgkin’s lymphoma must be found in the proximity of the lymph node containing Reed-Sternberg cells.

What causes Hodgkin’s lymphoma

Risk factors

Exact causes are not known. Doctors are often not able to explain why one person develops Hodgkin’s lymphoma and another one doesn’t. It is known that lymphoma doesn’t occur accidentally and that Hodgkin’s lymphoma is not infectious.

Scientists have found several possible risk factors promoting the development of Hodgkin’s lymphoma. People who have often had certain viral infections may develop Hodgkin’s lymphoma. For example, people with HTLV-I (Human T-Lymphotrophic virus) infection may have Hodgkin’s lymphoma more than others.

According to some studies, Hodgkin’s lymphoma occurs somewhat more often in persons who have a family history of lymphoma, but this risk is very small.

It is important to understand that even if you have some of the mentioned risk factors, it does not mean that you will become ill with Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Most people with these risk factors will never have this disease. In some diagnosed cases, risk factors are not found.

How common is Hodgkin’s lymphoma?

Hodgkin’s lymphoma is not a very common cancer. In 2018, 33 new cases were discovered in Estonia. Older people, especially above 55 years old, may have this tumour.

Treatment of Hodgkin’s lymphoma

For those patients, mostly chemotherapy and/or radiotherapy is used.

In certain cases (rarely), biological therapy with monoclonal antibodies or bone marrow transplantation is used.


1 Tervise Arengu Instituut. PK10: Pahaloomuliste kasvajate esmasjuhud paikme, soo ja vanuserühma järgi.

Text compilation was consulted by: Dr Katrin Palk
Last updated: 16/02/2021