Blood platelets data
Lymphomas are the most common form of blood cancer in Australia, and the most common cancers diagnosed in 15-24 year olds. Lymphoma is caused by uncontrolled growth of immune cells called lymphocytes. Our research aims to improve the outcomes for people with lymphoma.

Our lymphoma research

Our lymphoma researchers are:

  • Discovering the changes that transform a normal cell into a lymphoma cell.
  • Demonstrating the role of the immune system in preventing lymphoma formation.
  • Developing treatments that target the proteins keeping lymphoma cells alive.
  • Leading clinical trials to test potential new treatment for lymphoma.

What is lymphoma?

Lymphoma is a cancer that develops from white blood cells called lymphocytes. It occurs when a lymphocyte undergoes changes that allow it to divide uncontrollably and become long-lived.

Lymphoma develops within the lymph nodes, spleen, or bone marrow, collectively called lymphoid organs. The lymphoma cells initially grow within a single lump. Over time they may spread to other parts of the body.

Lymphoma shares many similarities with some types of leukaemia.

There are many types of lymphoma. These differ in:

  • The features of the lymphoma cells, such the proteins found on the outside of the cells.
  • The location of the lymphoma within the body.
  • How rapidly the disease advances.
  • The best treatment for the particular lymphoma.
  • The characteristics, such as age, of the people who are most often affected.

Research is revealing how different types of lymphoma develop. Many occur because of changes in the genetic material of certain types of lymphocytes. For example, follicular lymphoma cells contain a genetic rearrangement that increases the amount of the cell survival protein Bcl-2 in cells.

Some lymphomas are triggered by a viral infection. Some types of lymphoma are associated with Epstein-Barr virus (EBV), although most people who develop this common infection never get lymphoma. The virus introduces its own genetic material into lymphocytes. This may trigger the lymphocyte to divide uncontrollably or become long-lived.

Lymphoma Australia and the Leukaemia Foundation provide information about specific types of lymphoma.

Lymphoma risk factors

There are many factors that can contribute to a person’s risk of developing lymphoma. These include:

  • Age: many types of lymphomas are more common in older people, but some types are more common at younger ages.
  • Gender: different types of lymphoma are more common in men or women.
  • Infection with certain viruses such as Epstein-Barr virus.
  • Exposure to agents that damage DNA.
  • Immune disorders including immunodeficiency and autoimmune disease.

How is lymphoma treated?

The treatment of lymphoma depends on the type of lymphoma. Factors such as how rapidly the lymphoma is growing can influence how aggressively it is treated.

Many types of lymphoma are treated with combinations of:

  • Chemotherapy, using medicines to kill the dividing lymphoma cells.
  • Radiation therapy, either by directing radiation beams at a tumour, or attaching radioactive particles to antibodies that bind to a tumour.
  • Targeted therapies that use antibodies to bind to proteins on the surface of lymphoma cells, killing them; or small molecules that block the function of important proteins within the lymphoma cells.
  • Stem cell transplant in which the person with lymphoma is treated with very high doses of radiation or chemotherapy to kill the lymphoma cells. This also kills the normal blood stem cells that are then replaced with healthy blood stem cells taken either from another person or harvested from patients themself.

For more information about lymphoma treatments, please visit Lymphoma Australia or the Leukaemia Foundation.

WEHI researchers are not able to provide specific medical advice specific to individuals. If you have cancer and wish to find out more information about clinical trials, please visit the Australian Cancer Trials or the Australian New Zealand Clinical Trials Registry, or consult your medical specialist.


Dr Mary Ann Anderson

Dr Mary Ann Anderson in the lab
Mary Ann
Clinician scientist

Professor Andrew Roberts

Professor Andrew Roberts in the lab
Laboratory Head; Joint Leader, Cancer Research and Treatments Theme

Dr Brad Sleebs

Dr Brad Sleebs
Laboratory Head
Super Content: 
MCL-1 team in the laboratory

Institute researchers have discovered that targeting a cell ‘survival’ protein could help treat some lymphomas, including those that are resistant to existing therapies.

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In a world first, Institute scientists and collaborators have discovered a new type of anti-cancer drug that can put cancer cells into a permanent sleep, without the harmful side-effects caused by conventional cancer therapies.

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Three scientists in a laboratory

Institute scientists have discovered how the most important gene in preventing human cancer, p53, is able to stop the development of blood cancers.