HEALTHY LIVING

Gov. Larry Hogan's Stage 3 Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma Diagnosis, Explained

06/23/2015 05:02 pm ET | Updated Jun 23, 2015
Rob Carr via Getty Images

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) announced on Monday that he has been diagnosed with late stage 3 non-Hodgkin lymphoma, an aggressive form of lymph node cancer.

Hogan, 59, sought medical attention after noticing a lump in his neck while shaving, and his doctors discovered more than 30 tumors in total. However, he plans on continuing to serve at his political post, recruiting Lt. Gov. Boyd K. Rutherford (R) to fill in for him when necessary during his chemotherapy treatments.

I’m going to face this challenge with the same energy and determination that I’ve relied on to climb every hill and to overcome every obstacle that I’ve faced in my life,” Hogan said at a news conference on Monday.

According to the American Cancer Society, non-Hodgkin lymphoma (also known as non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, NHL, or just lymphoma) is one of the most common cancers in the United States, accounting for about 4 percent of all cancer cases.

Approximately 70 percent of people diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma are still alive after five years -- a commonly used metric of survivability, reports the National Cancer Institute. They also estimate there are 71,850 new cases of the cancer each year and 19,790 annual deaths.

The two types of lymphomas, non-Hodgkin and Hodgkin, start in lymphocytes, or small white blood cells residing in lymph tissues, such as the lymph nodes, spleen, and bone marrow. Lymphocytes are a component of the body’s immune system; lymphoma occurs when these cells begin growing in an abnormal manner and uncontrollable rate. In the majority of cases, it's the B lymphocytes -- the ones responsible for producing antibodies -- that are compromised by lymphoma, as opposed to T lymphocytes, which are responsible for directly attacking pathogens.

Hogan's case parallels these statistics: his doctors diagnosed him with B-cell non-Hodgkin lymphoma. With tumors in his neck, chest, abdomen and groin, he plans to undergo 18 weeks of chemotherapy treatment. Though the governor described his illness as "very aggressive" and "very advanced," his doctors told The New York Times that they believe he has a "strong chance of survival” and recovery.

The majority of non-Hodgkin lymphoma patients aren't diagnosed until stage 3, when the tumors are easier to spot, Kevin Cullen, the director of the University of Maryland Marlene and Stewart Greenebaum Cancer Center, who did not treat the governor, told The Washington Post. Since Hogan was also diagnosed during this time frame, Cullen expects that chemotherapy will be enough to terminate the cancer and thinks it's a good idea that the governor continues to work in the meantime to maintain a positive psychological outlook.

While researchers are still unsure of how non-Hodgkin lymphoma arises, the Mayo Clinic indicates that infections like Epstein-Barr virus and HIV, old age and even exposure to some insect and weed killers can play a role. Potential signs include enlarged lymph nodes, a swollen abdomen, feeling full after only a small amount of food, chest pain or pressure, shortness of breath or cough, fever, weight loss, night sweats, fatigue and anemia.

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