What’s In A “Non”


Barbara Padilla, runner-up in last night’s America’s Got Talent, is a cancer survivor. Specifically, Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. Her success illustrates one side of the cancer continuum; the death of Patrick Swayze on Monday underscores the other.

Hodgkin’s Lymphoma (a.k.a. Hodgkin’s Disease) is an “eponymous” disease, meaning it’s named after the person who first described the condition. In this case British pathologist Thomas Hodgkin. He wrote about what became his namesake in 1832. (TIP: If you’re going to have a disease named after you, it’s better to be the doctor than the patient.)

Thomas_Hodgkin
Thomas Hodgkin - British pathologist for whom Hodgkin's Disease is named

I have Non Hodgkin’s Lymphoma and it’s always seemed strange to have a life-threatening “non” disease. You never hear of non leukemia or non melanoma; or of people having non Alzheimer’s (named after Alois Alzheimer) or non Parkinson’s (James Parkinson). Post a comment if you can think of another non-disease.

Both kinds of cancer affect white blood cells called lymphocytes, but Hodgkin’s Lymphoma produces an abnormal cell called a Reed-Sternberg cell while Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma doesn’t. The culprit is named after Dorothy Reed Mendenhall and Carl Sternberg. If you want to know why, look it up. I can’t do ALL the work.

As it turns out, the Non Hodgkin’s variety is much more common and spreading at a faster rate in the U.S. There are about 30 different forms of NHL and the distinctions are important when it comes to treatment.

Speaking of treatment, I’ll know more what’s in store for me after my PET scan in a few weeks.

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5 thoughts on “What’s In A “Non”

  1. How about non-diabetes?

    I guess they figure that Hodgkin’s Lymphoma is the one everybody used to hear about. So if it’s lymphoma, but not Hodgkin’s, then it’s Non-Hodgkin’s. Go figure.

    Hoping and praying for a good PET scan!

  2. I appreciate you explaining some of this – my sister had one of the 30 kinds of NHL in early ’70s but treatment today is far advanced from them – good for you!!

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