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Definition and etiology

Hodgkin cells and Reed-Sternberg cells
Hodgkin cells and Reed-Sternberg cells

Hodgkin lymphoma (also called Hodgkin’s lymphoma, Hodgkin’s disease and lymphogranulomatosis) is a clearly defined malignant disease of the lymphatic system. It was first described in 1832 by Sir Thomas Hodgkin, after whom it was named.

The most typical histological change associated with Hodgkin lymphoma is the presence of Hodgkin cells and Reed-Sternberg cells. These cells were first described in 1898 by Carl Sternberg and in 1902 by Dorothy Reed. They can only be found in Hodgkin lymphoma, thus distinguishing it from the large group of non-Hodgkin lymphomas and other diseases of the lymphatic system.

In all the years following the discovery of these cells right until today, various potential causes and triggers for the development of Hodgkin lymphoma have been discussed.

Further, it is assumed that the Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) plays a role in the development of Hodgkin lymphoma. It has been observed that patients with Pfeiffer’s disease / infectious mononucleosis in their history (an acute disease caused by an EBV infection associated with fever and swollen lymph nodes) are more often affected by Hodgkin lymphoma than patients who have never had this kind of viral infection. This is supported by the fact that genetic material of the Epstein-Barr virus has been found in Hodgkin cells and Reed-Sternberg cells, which was first shown in the late 1980s.

However, the genetic code of the EBV cannot be found in all Hodgkin and Reed-Sternberg cells. Also, the vast majority of EBV-infected people do not develop Hodgkin lymphoma. In fact, over 95% of the whole population encounter an EBV infection until the age of 30, most of them without ever showing any clinical signs. For these reasons there must be other essential factors causing or contributing to the development of Hodgkin lymphoma that have not been revealed yet. Potential factors might be a disturbed immune system regulation as well as genetic aspects or environmental influences.