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An Overview of the Lymphatic System

Lymphoma

Lymphoma refers to a cancer that originates in the nodes or glands of the lymphatic system. The lymphatic system is part of the immune system and functions to fight disease and infections. Some lymphomas start in lymph tissue in organs such as the brain or stomach.
Lymphomas are classified into two categories:

The difference between Hodgkins lymphoma and Non-Hodgkins lymphoma is that the cells of each of these diseases look different under a microscope. They also spread differently. Hodgkins spreads in a more predictable way and not as much as non-Hodgkins.

In addition to Hodgkins lymphoma and Non-Hodgkins lymphoma, the Cutaneous Lymphoma Clinic at Stanford is a major referral center for patients with lymphomas that affect the skin.

The Lymphatic System

The lymphatic system is part of the immune system. It helps the body fight infections. It also helps maintain fluid balance in different parts of the body. It is made of a series of thin tubes, called lymphatic vessels. These vessels collect fluid, called lymph, from different parts of the body. Similar to blood vessels, these vessels then carry the lymph back to the bloodstream. Lymph is a colorless, watery fluid that is rich in white blood cells called lymphocytes. These cells play an important role in the immune system by protecting your body against infection. Lymphocytes form and are stored in lymph nodes, which are pea-sized collections of cells located throughout the body, such as in the armpit, groin, and neck area.

Organs of the Lymphatic System

Some organs are also part of the lymphatic system. These include the spleen, thymus gland, adenoids, and tonsils, as well as the bone marrow.

Types of Lymphocytes

There are 2 main types of lymphocytes. One type is B lymphocytes, which are also called B cells. The other type is T lymphocytes, which are also called T cells.

The main role of B cells is to protect the body against bacteria and viruses by producing proteins called antibodies. Antibodies attract other immune system cells and proteins that kill bacteria or viruses.

T cells have a variety of functions. Some protect the body by destroying virus-infected cells or by releasing substances that attract other types of white blood cells. Others help destroy some types of cancer cells.

Lymphoma can start in either B cells or T cells. Lab tests can help determine which type of cell the lymphoma has started in by seeing substances on the surface of the cells. Getting this information is an important first step in choosing the best treatment. There are many different types of lymphoma as well as many different types of treatment.

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