B-cell lymphoma is a type of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. This cancer affects immune system cells. Depending on the type, B-cell lymphoma can be slow- or fast-growing and affect different body parts.

Lymphoma is a type of blood cancer that affects your lymphatic system. This is part of your immune system, which is responsible for fighting off bacteria, viruses, and other foreign bodies.

There are two types of lymphomas: Hodgkin’s lymphoma and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma begins in lymphocytes. They are a type of white blood cell that bone marrow creates. The type of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma you have may be characterized by the type of lymphocytes affected:

  • B-cell lymphoma: B cells help protect your body by creating antibodies. Antibodies attach to germs, which are then targeted and destroyed by your immune system.
  • T-cell lymphoma: T cells have many roles, depending on the type of T cell. They may help kill extra cells in your body, boost or slow down your immune system, and fight off germs.

B-cell lymphoma occurs when your B-cell lymphocytes divide and develop too quickly, creating weaker white blood cells. This could result in too many lymphocytes in your body, as well as the lymphocytes not being strong enough to fight off infections.

Approximately 1 in 3 people with lymphoma in the United States have non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, according to the American Cancer Society. Of these people, about 85% have B-cell lymphoma.

Keep reading to learn more about the different subtypes, symptoms, and treatments of B-cell lymphoma.

There are many subtypes of B-cell lymphoma. Some are slow-growing, or indolent, while others are more fast-growing, or aggressive:

  • Diffuse large B-cell lymphoma (DLBCL): This is the most common type of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. It’s an aggressive but treatable cancer that can involve lymph nodes and other organs.
  • Follicular lymphoma: This is the second most common type of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. It’s typically slow-growing and usually starts in the lymph nodes.
  • Mantle cell lymphoma: Generally, it involves the lymph nodes, bone marrow, spleen, and gastrointestinal system. It’s usually slow-growing but hard to treat.
  • Chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) or small lymphocytic lymphoma (SLL): This type is indolent and typically affects the blood and bone marrow (CLL) or lymph nodes and spleen (SLL).
  • Primary central nervous system lymphoma: This type usually starts in the brain or spinal cord. It’s associated with immune problems caused by AIDS or anti-rejection medications used following organ transplantation.
  • Splenic marginal zone B-cell lymphoma: This is a rare, slow-growing type that begins in the spleen, blood, and bone marrow.
  • Extranodal marginal zone B-cell lymphoma (MALT): This type usually involves the stomach. It can also occur in the lungs, skin, thyroid, salivary gland, or eye.
  • Nodal marginal zone B-cell lymphoma: This is a rare, slow-growing type found mainly in the lymph nodes.
  • Burkitt lymphoma: This is a fast-growing type more common in children.
  • Hairy cell leukemia: This is a slow-growing type that affects the spleen, lymph nodes, and blood.
  • Lymphoplasmacytic lymphoma (Waldenstrom macroglobulinemia): This is a rare, slow-growing lymphoma of the bone marrow, spleen, and lymph nodes.
  • Primary effusion lymphoma: This is a rare, aggressive type that begins in the eyeball and tends to occur in people who have a weakened immune system, possibly due to AIDS or anti-rejection medication following organ or tissue transplants.

Healthcare professionals stage cancer according to how far it has spread from the original site. A healthcare professional will classify your lymphoma into a stage based on whether it:

  • is only on one side of your diaphragm, or if it has spread to the other side
  • affects the lymphatic system, such as one lymph node or lymphatic sites
  • affects sites outside your lymphatic system (extranodal site), such as the blood, kidneys, and liver

Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma is staged from 1–4. Stage 4 is the most advanced.

Below is a summary of the stages of B-cell lymphoma, according to Cancer Research UK:

Stage 1Lymphoma is in one lymph node, lymphatic site, or lymphatic organ on one side of your diaphragm.
Stage 1ELymphoma affects one extranodal site on one side of your diaphragm.
Stage 2Lymphoma affects two or more lymph node sites on one side of your diaphragm.
Stage 2ELymphoma affects one extranodal site and one lymphatic site on one side of your diaphragm.
Stage 3Lymphoma affects both sides of your diaphragm. This may include lymphatic sites, extranodal sites, or both.
Stage 4Lymphoma affects both extranodal sites and your lymph nodes. Or, it’s in multiple extranodal sites, such as your liver, bones, or lungs.

Stages 1 and 2 are also classified as limited stages. Stages 3 and 4 are classified as advanced stages.

Symptoms vary according to the type of B-cell lymphoma and how advanced it is.

The most common symptoms of B-cell lymphoma are swollen lymph nodes in your neck, armpits, or groin. These are typically painless, but they may grow quickly in a short period.

Other symptoms of B-cell lymphoma may include:

  • abdominal pain or swelling
  • chest pain
  • coughing
  • breathing difficulties
  • fever and night sweats
  • unexplained weight loss
  • fatigue

There is no specific cause for B-cell lymphoma. However, genetics and the environment may be responsible for the change in B-cell lymphocyte genes.

Other possible risk factors for developing B-cell lymphoma may include:

  • some viruses, such as HIV
  • some medications that suppress your immune system
  • previous radiation therapy or chemotherapy
  • family history of B-cell lymphoma
  • obesity
  • exposure to some pesticides and dyes

Treatment for B-cell lymphoma depends on the subtype and stage of the cancer.

Certain types of asymptomatic and indolent lymphomas may not require treatment. A doctor may first recommend “watchful waiting.” This means you’ll follow up every few months to make sure the cancer isn’t advancing.

Treatment for B-cell lymphoma may start when symptoms appear or if there are signs of disease progression. Your treatment plan often involves a combination of treatments that may change over time.

These may include the following treatments:

  • Radiation therapy: This uses high powered energy beams to kill cancer cells and shrink tumors. It requires lying very still on a table while the beams are directed to a precise point on your body.
  • Chemotherapy: This systemic treatment can be given orally or intravenously. One common treatment for DLBCL is CHOP, which includes taking the four drugs cyclophosphamide, doxorubicin, vincristine, and prednisone. R-CHOP is when these drugs are taken with a monoclonal antibody called rituximab (Rituxan). Chemotherapy can cure some aggressive B-cell lymphomas, especially in early stage diseases.
  • Immunotherapy: Biologic drugs help your immune system fight cancer by targeting proteins on the surface of B cells. This makes it easier for the immune system to identify and destroy them. This can help your body produce new, healthy B cells and decrease the likelihood of the cancer recurring.
  • Stem cell transplant: This involves replacing your bone marrow cells with cells from elsewhere. These may be your own cells or from a healthy donor. Before receiving this treatment, you need chemotherapy or radiation to suppress your immune system, destroy cancer cells, and make room for the new marrow.
  • Targeted therapy: This medication treatment specifically targets changes in lymphoma cells that help them grow. This may work if you have not benefitted from standard chemotherapy.

It’s important to discuss all the treatment options with your healthcare team, family, and friends, as they may have serious side effects.

After your treatment course, you’ll have regular appointments with your healthcare team. These visits are to see how your treatment went and to monitor for a cancer relapse.

Lymphomas and several types of treatments weaken your immune system, making you more vulnerable to infections.

Some other complications of receiving treatment for B-cell lymphoma may include:

  • infertility
  • heart, lung, kidney, and thyroid disease
  • depression
  • diabetes
  • higher risk of developing second cancers

What is the survival rate for B-cell lymphoma?

The overall 5-year relative survival rate for non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma is 74%, according to the American Cancer Society. This number varies depending on several factors, such as the type of B-cell lymphoma and stage at diagnosis, your age, and your overall health.

A doctor can provide you with a better outlook based on your complete health profile.

Do people survive B-cell lymphoma?

Many people survive B-cell lymphoma. Your outlook depends on several factors, such as the type of B-cell lymphoma and your overall health.

Survival rates continue to increase each year as a result of treatment advances. Early diagnosis and treatment may also increase the chances of survival.

Is lymphoma B-cell cancer curable?

Treatment success for B-cell lymphoma depends on several factors, such as the type and the stage at diagnosis, as well as your age and overall health. For example, DLBCL may be cured in up to 50% of people whose cancers achieve complete remission after first-line therapy.

Earlier stages typically have a better outlook. Speak with a healthcare professional about your treatment plan and outlook.

B-cell lymphoma is a type of non-Hodgkin’s cancer that affects white blood cells. There are several subtypes, which may affect your treatment plan and outlook.

Speak with a healthcare professional if you experience any symptoms of B-cell lymphoma. Early diagnosis and treatment can greatly increase the chances of a positive outcome.