What is Pediatric Hodgkin's Lymphoma?

Also called Hodgkin disease or Hodgkin's, Hodgkin lymphoma is a cancer of the lymphatic system, which is part of your immune system. Hodgkin's lymphoma causes white blood cells — known as lymphocytes — to grow and spread in lymph tissues, which are found in many different parts of the body, such as the lymph nodes in the neck. Pediatric Hodgkin's lymphoma is a cancer that can occur in children, teenagers and young adults.

Key facts about Pediatric Hodgkin's lymphoma:

  • According to the American Cancer Society, over 8,000 people in the U.S. are diagnosed with Hodgkin's lymphoma every year. About 10-15% of these cases of Hodgkin's lymphoma occur in children and teenagers.
  • Hodgkin's lymphoma is most common in early adulthood, or when someone is in their early 20s. Hodgkin lymphoma is rare in children under the age of 5. The risk of Hodgkin's lymphoma increases again after the age of 55.
  • Hodgkin's lymphoma more commonly occurs in boys than in girls.

What is Pediatric Non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma?

Pediatric non-Hodgkin's lymphoma is a cancer that also occurs in the lymph system. There are multiple types of non-Hodgkin's lymphomas in children, based on the size, shape and growth pattern of the cancer cells. The most common types of non-Hodgkin lymphomas are different in children and teenager than ones found in adults. The three main types of non-Hodgkin's lymphomas that occur in children are: mature B-cell non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, lymphoblastic lymphoma and anaplastic large cell lymphoma.

Key facts about childhood non-Hodgkin's lymphomas:

  • Most lymphomas (cancers of the lymph system) that occur in children under the age of 14 are non-Hodgkin's lymphomas.
  • Non-Hodgkin's lymphomas are rare in children under the age of three. The risk of non-Hodgkin's lymphomas in children increases with age.
  • Non-Hodgkin's lymphoma is also more common in boys than in girls.

What is the Difference Between Hodgkin's and Non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma in Children? 

The difference between Hodgkin's lymphoma and non-Hodgkin's lymphoma is how the cancer cells look under a microscope. Named after the doctor who first discovered them, Hodgkin's lymphomas contain an abnormal cell called a Reed-Sternberg cell. Non-Hodgkin's lymphomas do not contain these type of cells.

Key facts about Hodgkin's vs. non-Hodgkin's lymphoma:

  • If the abnormal Reed-Sternberg cell is not present, the cancer is classified as non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. There are more than 60 different types of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma.
  • Hodgkin's lymphoma and non-Hodgkin's lymphoma are treated differently. This is why it's important to know what type of cancer cells appear under a microscope.
  • According to the American Cancer Society, non-Hodgkin's lymphoma accounts for about 5 percent of all childhood cancers, while Hodgkin's lymphoma accounts for about roughly 3 percent.

What are the Signs of Childhood Hodgkin's and non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma? 

The symptoms of Hodgkin's lymphoma can include the following:

  • Feeling weak or extreme fatigue
  • Weight loss or loss of appetite
  • Fever or night sweats
  • Swollen (but not painful) lymph nodes in the neck, chest, armpit or groin
  • Itchy skin 

The signs of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma are:

  • Fatigue
  • Coughing or wheezing
  • Weight loss
  • Fever or night sweats
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Enlarged lymph nodes
  • Trouble breathing
  • Swollen abdomen
  • In boys, a non-painful lump or swelling of the testicles

For children, these signs and symptoms can indicate another medical issue or problem, such as an infection. The only way to diagnose both Hodgkin's and non-Hodgkin's lymphoma is through a blood test. If a child is exhibiting any of the above symptoms, talk to your doctor, who can administer a blood test to diagnose or rule out these types of childhood cancers.

How do you Treat Childhood Hodgkin's or non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma?

For children with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, chemotherapy is the main type of treatment. Chemotherapy kills the cancer cells and stops them from growing or dividing. Radiation therapy is rarely used for non-Hodgkin's lymphomas that occur in children.

For child and teen patients with Hodgkin's lymphoma, chemotherapy is also the most common type of treatment. Depending on the patient, radiation therapy is sometimes used to treat Hodgkin's lymphoma. Radiation therapy can be effective for Hodgkin's lymphoma that has not spread; however, radiation can potentially disrupt the growth of bones and soft tissues in young children. For this reason and others, radiation is becoming a less common type of treatment for children with Hodgkin's lymphoma.

Finding the Best Pediatric Cancer Clinic for Your Child

The vast majority of children and teens diagnosed with non-Hodgkin's or Hodgkin's lymphoma are treated at a pediatric cancer clinic, which specialize in treating childhood cancers and blood disorders found in children. Pediatric cancer centers are designed with children and teenagers in mind, providing a warm, safe and friendly environment for patients and their families undergoing cancer treatments.

Rocky Mountain Hospital for Children (RMHC) is dedicated to treating children and adolescents who have been diagnosed with all forms of childhood cancers, including both non-Hodgkin's and Hodgkin's lymphoma. A devoted staff of board-certified pediatric oncologists and hematologists, pathologists, radiologists, nurses and social workers administer around-the-clock care and take a personal, individualized approach to treating children and young adults undergoing cancer treatments. At RHMC, we also have an amazing team of Child Life Specialists, who offer support for child patients and their families throughout every stage of the treatment process.

For more information on childhood cancers, talk to your pediatrician about any questions or concerns you may have.