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Hodgkin lymphoma

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What is Hodgkin lymphoma?

Hodgkin lymphoma, sometimes called Hodgkin disease, is a type of lymphoma - a general term for cancer of the lymphatic system (the various lymph glands around the body).

There are two types of Hodgkin lymphoma:

  • classical Hodgkin lymphoma which makes up about 95% of cases
  • nodular lymphocyte-predominant Hodgkin lymphoma

Hodgkin lymphoma is a rare cancer accounting for approximately 0.5% of all cancers diagnosed in Australia.

In 2015, 647 people in Australia were diagnosed with Hodgkin lymphoma.

In 2016, 82 people died from Hodgkin lymphoma in Australia.  

Hodgkin lymphoma symptoms

Symptoms of Hodgkin lymphoma may include:

  • age - over a third of all people diagnosed are between 15 and 30 years of age
  • painless swelling in the neck, armpit or groin
  • excessive sweating at night
  • fatigue
  • itching
  • shortness of breath
  • unexplained cough
  • fever
  • unexplained weight loss. 

Causes of Hodgkin lymphoma

Some factors that can increase your risk of Hodgkin lymphoma include:

  • exposure to viruses such as the Epstein-Barr virus or HIV
  • family history
  • being overweight
  • smoking.

Diagnosis for Hodgkin lymphoma

Initially your GP may give you a physical examination and feel the lymph nodes in your neck, underarm and groin for any swelling. If there is some enlargement you may have some additional tests.


This is the most common test to diagnose Hodgkin lymphoma. Some tissue from the enlarged lymph node will be removed for examination under a microscope. There are two types of biopsy:

  • excision biopsy removes part or the whole lymph node under general anaesthetic
  • core needle biopsy uses a needle to remove some cells and tissue from the lymph node.

Further tests

If the results of your biopsy indicate you have Hodgkin lymphoma you may have additional tests to determine how far the cancer has spread. These may include:

  • chest X-ray
  • imaging tests such as CT, PET and MRI scans or an ultrasound
  • bone marrow biopsy
  • blood tests. 

Treatment for Hodgkin lymphoma

Treatment for Hodgkin lymphoma will depend on how advanced the disease is as well as your age, symptoms and overall health.


Further tests after a biopsy will tell your doctor how far Hodgkin lymphoma has spread. This is called staging. Staging helps your doctors decide on the best treatment.


Radiotherapy uses X-rays or gamma rays to destroy or damage cancer cells. A combination of radiotherapy and chemotherapy is often used to treat early stage Hodgkin lymphoma.


Chemotherapy uses drugs to kill cancer cells or slow their growth. In advanced Hodgkin lymphoma, chemotherapy is the principal treatment.

Stem cell transplant

You may have a stem cell transplant if the Hodgkin lymphoma has, or is likely to, return. It may also be offered when the lymphoma has not responded well to other treatments.

Treatment team

Your GP will initially examine you for symptoms. For treatment of Hodgkin lymphoma you may see a number of health professionals including:

  • a haematologist specialising in the diagnosis and treatment of blood diseases
  • a surgeon who performs a biopsy
  • a medical oncologist who coordinates chemotherapy treatment
  • a radiation oncologist to coordinate radiotherapy treatment
  • nurses
  • other health professionals such as a physiotherapist, dietitian, social worker and psychologist.  

Palliative care

In some cases of Hodgkin lymphoma, your medical team may talk to you about palliative care. Palliative care aims to improve your quality of life by alleviating symptoms of cancer, without aiming to cure it.

As well as slowing the spread of Hodgkin lymphoma, palliative treatment can relieve pain and help manage other symptoms. Treatment may include radiotherapy, chemotherapy or other drug therapies.


Screening for Hodgkin lymphoma

There is currently no screening program for Hodgkin lymphoma available in Australia. 

Prognosis for Hodgkin lymphoma

Prognosis refers to the expected outcome of a disease. While is it not possible for your doctor to predict the exact course of the disease, you may want to discuss your treatment options and how well you are responding to treatment. 

Preventing for Hodgkin lymphoma

There are no proven measures to prevent lymphoma, however, people with an HIV infection or Epstein-Barr virus have an increased risk of contracting lymphoma.


Understanding Hodgkin Lymphoma, Cancer Council NSW  © 2017. Last medical review of this booklet: May 2017

Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. ACIM (Australian Cancer Incidence and Mortality) Books. Canberra: AIHW.

Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) 2017. Cancer in Australia 2017. Cancer series no. 101. Cat. no. CAN 100. Canberra: AIHW

Leukaemia Foundation 



For more information

For support and information on cancer and cancer-related issues, call Cancer Council 13 11 20 (cost of a local call). This is a confidential service.


Includes additional information on treatment, making decisions around treatment and managing side effects of Hodgkin lymphoma treatment.

Also included, detailed information on looking after yourself during and after treatment, and links to both professional and community support. 

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This page was last updated on: Friday, March 22, 2019

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