The Cancer Jane Fonda Has Is One of the Most Common

David Livingston/Getty
David Livingston/Getty

Jane Fonda announced Friday that she has non-Hodgkin lymphoma, a type of cancer that starts in white blood cells that are part of the lymph system. Here are some fast facts about it:

It’s one of the most common cancers

About 80,000 people are diagnosed a year, and 60,000 of them survive, according to the American Cancer Society. The lifetime risk of developing non-Hodgkin is 1 in 42 for men and 1 in 52 for women.

A swollen lymph node can be a red flag

An enlarged node in the neck, armpit or groin is how some people discover they have NHL—although any of the body’s 600 lymph nodes can also be swollen for far less serious reasons. Other possible symptoms include fatigue, fever, chills and night sweats, unexplained weight loss, abdominal bloating—but again, those are also common in other illnesses. There is no screening test for non-Hodgkin.

Not all non-Hodgkin lymphomas are alike

Some forms, called indolent, grow so slowly that doctors may not even treat it at first and instead wait and watch, also known as active surveillance. Indolent NHL tends to respond well to treatment but is difficult to completely cure—although some people can survive 20 years or longer with a diagnosis. Other forms are faster-growing but also respond to treatment and are more likely to be cured. There are multiple subtypes, and NHL can start in any part of the body that has lymph tissue—and the effects and treatment vary. Fonda did not disclose which subtype she has, although up to 90 percent of all cases are B-cell lymphoma, as opposed to T-cell.

There are numerous risk factors

Age is a big one; most non-Hodgkin cases occur in people over 60, like Fonda, who is 84. Men are slightly more likely to get it than women, and white people have a higher risk than people of color. Other possible factors include family history, a history of autoimmune disease, radiation exposure or treatment, and obesity.

Treatments are changing all the time

Fonda said she has been undergoing chemotherapy for six months, and that is the primary treatment for most kinds of NHL. But immunotherapy, including monoclonal antibodies, and radiation and surgery are also used in some cases. In some stubborn cases, the cancer is blasted with high-dose chemo followed by a stem-cell transplant.

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