In Hodgkin's disease, cells in the lymphatic system become abnormal. They divide too rapidly and grow without any order or control. Because lymphatic tissue is present in many parts of the body, this disease can start almost anywhere. Hodgkin's disease may occur in a single lymph node, a group of lymph nodes, or, sometimes, in other parts of the lymphatic system, such as the bone marrow and spleen.
Hodgkin's disease tends to spread in a fairly orderly way from one group of lymph nodes to the next. For example, when the disease develops in the lymph nodes in the neck, it spreads first to the nodes above the collarbones and then to the lymph nodes under the arms and within the chest. Eventually, it can spread to almost any other part of the body.
Hodgkin's research scientists at hospitals and medical centers throughout the world are studying this disease. They are trying to learn more about what causes it and more effective methods of treatment.
At this time, the cause of Hodgkin's disease is not known, and doctors can seldom explain why one person gets this disease and another does not. It is clear, however, that Hodgkin's disease is not caused by an injury, and it is not contagious; no one can "catch" this disease from another person.
By studying patterns of cancer in the population, researchers have found certain risk factors that are more common in people who get Hodgkin's disease than in those who do not. However, most people with these risk factors do not get the disease, and many who do get it have none of the known risk factors.
The following are some of the risk factors associated with Hodgkin's disease:
- Age/sex: Hodgkin's disease occurs most often in people between 15 and 34 and in people over the age of 55. It is more common in men than in women.
- Family history of the disease: Brothers and sisters of those with Hodgkin's disease have a higher-than-average chance of developing it.
- Viruses: Epstein-Barr virus is an infectious agent that may be associated with an increased chance of getting Hodgkin's disease.
People who are concerned about their risk of developing Hodgkin's disease should talk with their doctor about the disease, the symptoms to watch for, and an appropriate schedule for checkups. The doctor's advice will be based on the person's age, medical history, and other factors.