Non-Hodgkin lymphoma

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Spread of non-Hodgkin lymphoma

Understanding how a type of cancer usually grows and spreads helps your healthcare team plan your treatment and future care. NHL can spread through the lymphatic system, or sometimes through the bloodstream, to almost any tissue or organ in the body.

NHL usually starts in an area of lymph nodes. When it spreads to an organ or tissue outside of the lymph nodes, it is called extranodal spread.

If NHL spreads, it can spread to the following:

  • other lymph nodes close to where it started or in other parts of the body
  • bone marrow
  • spleen
  • liver
  • stomach
  • small intestine
  • large intestine
  • lungs or pleura
  • testicles
  • brain or spinal cord (called the central nervous system, or CNS)
  • skin
  • eyes
  • sinuses

Indolent (low-grade) types of NHL have often spread to different parts of the body by the time they are diagnosed. Lymphoma cells can be found in many lymph nodes, the bone marrow or the spleen.

Aggressive (high-grade) types of NHL usually haven’t spread outside of the lymph node area or organ they started in by the time they are diagnosed.

Transformed NHL

Some indolent types of NHL can change into a more aggressive type of NHL. Usually, the indolent type of NHL will change into diffuse large B-cell lymphoma (DLBCL). The indolent types of NHL that might change include:

  • follicular lymphoma
  • chronic lymphocytic leukemia/small lymphocytic lymphoma
  • marginal zone lymphomas


The thin layer of tissue that covers the lungs and lines the chest cavity. It protects and cushions the lungs and produces a fluid that acts like a lubricant so the lungs can move smoothly in the chest cavity.