(WASHINGTON) -- Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, the cancer that claimed the life of 39-year-old actor Andy Whitfield, is the most common cancer affecting the lymphatic system — the network of organs, ducts and nodes that dispenses immune cells that help the body fight off infection.
According to the National Cancer Institute, there have been 66,360 new cases of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma diagnosed this year, and 19,320 deaths. The Lymphoma Research Foundation estimates that 332,000 Americans are currently living with this type of cancer that kills very quickly. Only 63 percent live five years after diagnosis.
Since the early 1970s, the number of new cases of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma has nearly doubled. A 2004 study suggests the increase could be attributed to better cancer reporting, an increase in AIDS-related NHL and changes in the classification of lymphoma.
While non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma can strike at any age, lymphomas as a whole are the most common childhood cancers, whose symptoms include chills, fever, weight loss and enlarged lymph nodes.
The exact cause of NHL remains a mystery, but a family history of the disease, already having an autoimmune disease and exposure to certain environmental chemicals are believed to contribute to it.
Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio