Cancer research is ever-evolving, with new information presented as developments are made. Despite breakthrough evidence and statistics, people continue to wonder one key thing: Is lymphoma hereditary? The answer is both “yes” and “no.” A parent who has lymphoma does not automatically pass this disease down to their child. However, some people inherit DNA mutations from their parents that increase the risk for certain types of cancers.
When it comes to lymphoma, specifically, a family history of this type of cancer does seem to increase the risk of lymphoma being passed down. To further explore this concept, it’s best to identify what causes lymphoma, the types of lymphoma, who it mostly affects, as well as treatment types and what happens when cancer spreads to the lymph nodes rather than originating from them. The way the body changes and reacts to various factors, including hereditary information, affects the likelihood of a person getting cancer but never guarantees an outcome.
What Causes Lymphoma?
Lymphoma refers to a diverse group of cancers that affect any part of the lymphatic system, which means each has its own characteristics and demographic of people it affects. Research shows DNA can cause normal lymphocytes to change into lymphoma cells. Lymphoma can also be caused by DNA changes that turn on oncogenes, which help cells grow, divide, stay alive, or turn off tumor suppressor genes that slow down cell division or cause cells to die.
Additionally, some researchers think an Epstein-Barr virus infection can cause changes to B lymphocytes, which can lead to the development of Reed-Sternberg cells, the cancer cells in hodgkin’s lymphoma. Still, there are other factors that put people at higher risk of lymphomas, such as chronic infections, immune deficiencies, and autoimmune diseases. Suffice it to say, there is no central cause of lymphoma, including DNA, but rather various sources from which it can stem.
Types of Lymphoma
Lymphoma includes cancers that affect the lymph nodes, tonsils, spleen, and bone marrow. Though there are over 70 cancer types classified as lymphoma, there are two main ones people are most familiar with. These are hodgkin’s lymphoma and non hodgkin’s lymphoma.
Hodgkin’s Lymphoma (HL)
Hodgkin’s lymphoma, otherwise known as Hodgkin’s disease, typically starts in B lymphocytes. B lymphocytes or B cells make antibodies used to protect the body from germs, bacteria, and viruses. Since lymph tissue is found throughout the body, HL can begin anywhere, including the lymph nodes, spleen, digestive tract, or any other main parts of the lymphatic system.
Most cases of HL are categorized as classic hodgkin’s lymphoma and are confirmed by the presence of Reed-Sternberg cells, which are abnormal B lymphocytes. This broad category has four subtypes, which include:
- Nodular sclerosis hodgkin’s lymphoma. Most common in teens and young adults, accounting for 7 in 10 cases of hodgkin’s disease, and primarily starting in lymph nodes in the neck or chest.
- Mixed cellularity hodgkin’s lymphoma. Most common in people with HIV infection and is found in children or the elderly. Although it can start in any lymph node, it most often originates in the upper half of the body.
- Lymphocyte-rich hodgkin’s lymphoma. An uncommon subtype that typically occurs in the upper half of the body and is rarely found in more than a few lymph nodes.
- Lymphocyte-depleted hodgkin’s lymphoma. Also, a rare form of HL is seen in mainly older people with HIV infection, though it’s more aggressive than other subtypes when found. It occurs most often in lymph nodes in the abdomen, spleen, liver, or bone marrow.
Risk Factors of hodgkin’s Lymphoma
Most people with hodgkin’s lymphoma do not have a family history of it. However, there is a higher risk between brothers and sisters with the disease and an extremely high risk for an identical twin of a person who has it. Though not definite, the assumption for this higher risk is exposure to similar types of infections and the inheritance of a certain genetic mutation that increases the likelihood of cancerous growth.
Another risk factor is contraction of the Epstein-Barr virus, which causes infectious mononucleosis, a.k.a. mono. Although, most people who experience mono never develop HL. Part of the risk is due to the virus being found in Reed-Steenberg cells, though this accounts for only approximately 1 in 4 cases of classic hodgkin’s lymphoma. Additionally, the risk of HL is increased in people infected with HIV, as the immune system is weakened.1
Lastly, early adulthood and eldery adults, as well as males, are groups that report a slightly higher occurrence of HL. Falling into any of these categories doesn’t automatically assume the development of lymphoma. It’s simply what has been statistically shown to be true.
Non-hodgkin’s Lymphoma (NHL)
Non-hodgkin’s lymphoma is another type of lymphoma that forms in either B cells or T cells. The main difference between non hodgkin’s lymphoma and hodgkin’s lymphoma is people with NHL do not have Reed-Sternberg cells and those with HL do. There are several subtypes including:
- B-cell lymphoma. The most aggressive type of NHL stemming from abnormal B cells in the blood.
- T-cell lymphoma. Though not as common as B-cell lymphoma, it usually affects the skin, though can originate in the blood, lymph nodes, and organs well.
- Burkitt’s lymphoma. Another rare yet aggressive NHL subtype is most commonly found in people with compromised immune systems.
- Waldenstrom macroglobulinemia. A rare subtype affecting older adults is caused by the abnormal production of antibodies.
Risk Factors of Non-hodgkin’s Lymphoma
Though inheriting DNA damage and mutations is still plausible with non-hodgkin’s lymphoma, as with hodgkin’s lymphoma, gene changes related to NHL are typically acquired throughout the course of a person’s life, which is why NHL is most commonly diagnosed in older adults.
Gene mutations are more typically caused by infections, cancer-causing chemicals, and a number of other factors that can occur whether or not someone has a family history of cancer or not. People with certain autoimmune diseases, such as celiac disease or rheumatoid arthritis, have an increased risk for NHL. It’s also been reported to occur more frequently in women and people who are obese.2
Higher risk doesn’t assume a future diagnosis but can encourage regular checkups and follow-up on persisting symptoms to identify cancer before it spreads and receive treatment as needed.
Diagnosing and Treating Lymphoma
In addition to regular medical checkups, it’s important to be aware of the common symptoms of lymphoma. Enlarged lymph nodes in the neck, armpit, chest, stomach, and groin area can be indicative of lymphoma, though these can be present when a person is fighting an infection or virus as well. Other symptoms include fatigue, fever, bone pain, shortness of breath, and unexplained weight loss.
These symptoms can also be indicative of other illnesses and diseases. To confirm a cancer diagnosis, a biopsy is necessary. A biopsy is when a doctor removes cells from the lymph node to determine if cancerous cells are present. This is often performed in conjunction with other tests, such as PET scans or x-rays, to review where the cancer is located and how far it’s spread. The size and spread of the cancer will determine which stage its in and what treatment is prescribed.3
Since each person’s cancer diagnosis, health history, and prognosis is different, there must be a customized cancer treatment plan to address the specific needs of each person. Fortunately, there are multiple alternative cancer therapies available to complement or replace the conventional route of chemotherapy or radiation, which have their own adverse side effects.
Depending on the cancer stage, general health of the patient, and a variety of other factors, less invasive cancer treatment is often preferable and just as impactful as the traditional methods. A few of these options include:
Immunotherapy. This type of cancer treatment provides long-term protection against cancer by using the patient’s own immune cells to target cancer cells. It’s less invasive with fewer side effects and less frequent dosing than other cancer treatments. With immunotherapy, modified immune cells are administered back into the body, which can prevent T cell deactivation and eliminate cancer cells. Immunotherapy administration methods vary, ranging from oral medication to intravesical injections, which makes it a versatile treatment option for patients.
Sonodynamic therapy. Sonodynamic therapy is a minimally invasive alternative cancer treatment that combines low-intensity ultrasound with sonosensitizers. Sonosensitizers are compounds that make tissues more sensitive to ultrasound. When combined with molecular oxygen, it generates reactive oxygen species that contribute to cancer cell death and prevent the growth of tumor cells. This method is often used on its own but can also be used as a way to increase the effectiveness of chemotherapy in patients.
Enzyme therapy. By using natural systemic enzymes, this therapy neutralizes cancer cells and shrinks tumors. As an alternative cancer therapy, studies have shown the efficacy of enzyme treatment in supporting the immune system’s ability to increase activity in the body to attack cancerous cells.
These are a few of the many examples of the science and the holistic therapies available today to help treat lymphoma and other types of cancer. The specific method of care, including treatment type, administration, timeline, and frequency, is dependent upon each patient. However, the options available provide patients a greater fighting chance against cancer. As a leader in alternative therapy, Immunity Therapy Center is here to help you on your path to recovery. Reach out to set up a consultation today.
- American Cancer Society. What Causes Non-hodgkin’s Lymphoma? https://www.cancer.org/cancer/non-hodgkin’s-lymphoma/causes-risks-prevention/what-causes.html
- American Cancer Society. What Is hodgkin’s Lymphoma? https://www.cancer.org/cancer/hodgkin’s-lymphoma/about/what-is-hodgkin’s-disease.html
- Healthline.com. Everything You Need to Know about Lymphoma. https://www.healthline.com/health/lymphoma#types
At Immunity Therapy Center, our goal is to provide objective, updated, and research-based information on all health-related topics. This article is based on scientific research and/or other scientific articles. All information has been fact-checked and reviewed by Dr. Carlos Bautista, a Board Certified Medical Doctor at Immunity Therapy Center. All information published on the site must undergo an extensive review process to ensure accuracy. This article contains trusted sources with all references hyperlinked for the reader's visibility.