Non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL) is a form of cancer that begins in the lymph system. B-cell NHLs affect immune cells known as B lymphocytes or B cells.

All forms of NHL begin in lymphocytes. These white blood cells play an important role in the immune system. B cells help fight infections that attack the body. B-cell NHLs cause abnormal lymphocytes to grow. Over time, the cells may form tumors throughout the body.

Around 85% of NHLs in the United States are B-cell lymphomas, making them the most common type of NHL. There are many different types of B-cell NHLs. The most common of these is diffuse large B-cell lymphoma (DLBCL). After DLBCL, follicular lymphomas make up most cases of B-cell NHLs.

This article will review what causes non-Hodgkin B-cell lymphomas, how to diagnose them, and available treatment options.

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There are many different types of NHL. All forms of this cancer involve the development of abnormal blood cells in the lymphatic system. These cells can develop in the lymph nodes or lymphatic tissues.

B-cell NHL occurs when cells called B cells undergo mutations. A crucial part of the immune system, B cells are responsible for creating antibodies against infections.

There are several different forms of B-cell NHL. Some of the most common forms include:

  • diffuse large B-cell lymphoma (DLBCL)
  • follicular lymphoma
  • mantle cell lymphoma
  • small lymphocytic lymphoma
  • chronic lymphocytic lymphoma
  • marginal zone lymphomas

Around a third of B-cell NHL cases are DLBCL. People with this form of lymphoma may notice lumps in the neck, groin, or armpit. Cancerous cells within the lymph nodes cause the swelling behind these growths.

Most cases of DLBCL occur in people over the age of 60. This type of lymphoma grows quickly and requires rapid treatment.

Follicular lymphoma comprises up to 30% of all lymphomas. This type of B-cell NHL grows more slowly than others. It may also cause swelling of lymph nodes throughout the body. People with follicular lymphoma can live with the disease for many years since it typically progresses slowly.

Each type of B-cell NHL causes unique symptoms that vary from person to person.

The symptoms of B-cell NHL vary from person to person and depend on the type of cancer.

Some of the more common DLBCL symptoms include:

  • rapidly growing, painless areas of swelling
  • night sweats
  • fevers that come and go
  • sudden and unexplained weight loss
  • itching

Some symptoms may be location-specific. For example, lymphomas that begin in the abdominal region may be painful or cause diarrhea and bleeding during bowel movements. Lymphomas in the chest can cause a cough or make breathing difficult.

Other general symptoms of NHL can also include:

  • chills
  • fatigue
  • abdominal swelling
  • enlarged lymph nodes

People experiencing these symptoms should visit a medical professional. A doctor can perform a complete evaluation and determine whether symptoms are a sign of B-cell NHL.

B cells play a crucial role in creating antibodies to protect the body from infections. When those cells mutate or experience damage, they can become cancerous. When this happens, the mutated cells reproduce and spread throughout the body.

The reason why specific cells undergo these mutations is still poorly understood. However, scientists have identified risk factors that might make a person more likely to develop B-cell NHL, such as:

  • being over 60
  • being female
  • being white
  • having a family history of NHL
  • having a history of radiation exposure
  • having a weakened immune system
  • having an autoimmune disease
  • contracting certain viruses such as T-cell lymphotropic virus (HTLV-1)

The first step in receiving an NHL diagnosis is visiting a doctor for a physical exam. If a doctor suspects NHL, they may refer the person to a specialist for further testing.

At this point, a person may undergo a biopsy of a swollen lymph node. This process involves removing lymph node tissue and testing it for cancer cells.

A biopsy can help determine whether cancer is present and identify the type of cancer. Once they have a diagnosis, a doctor can recommend an individualized course of treatment.

There are many different treatments available to treat B-cell NHL. The right treatment depends on the person and the type of lymphoma they have. Treatment options may include:

Choosing the right treatment also depends on what stage the disease is currently in. People seeking B-cell NHL treatment should speak with a doctor to learn more about their options.

Non-Hodgkin B-cell lymphoma is a type of cancer that begins in damaged B cells and affects the lymphatic system. There are several different forms of this disease. The most common include DLBCL and follicular lymphoma.

Experts do not know exactly what causes B-cell NHL. People may be more likely to develop this condition if they have risk factors such as a family history of NHL.

Treatment options are available, and people living with B-cell NHL should work with medical professionals to find the right treatment for their needs.