Hodgkin and non-Hodgkin lymphoma of the head and neck: clinical, pathologic, and imaging evaluation

Neuroimaging Clin N Am. 2003 Aug;13(3):371-92. doi: 10.1016/s1052-5149(03)00039-x.


Lymphomas are subdivided into HL and NHL and are more specifically classified into subtypes of HL or NHL according to the WHO classification. HLs involve the lymph nodes predominantly and only approximately 5% arise in extranodal sites, whereas 30% of NHLs present in extranodal sites. Imaging studies, including CT and MR imaging, cannot distinguish [figure: see text] HL from NHL, and cannot differentiate their various subtypes, necessitating a pathologic diagnosis. Clinical parameters, however, can be helpful in differentiating the two broad categories of lymphomas, and subtypes of lymphomas have predilections for different sites within the head and neck. HL is most commonly located in the lymph nodes of the neck and mediastinum. Marginal-zone lymphoma has an affinity for the ocular adnexa, salivary glands, larynx, and the thyroid gland. Diffuse large B-cell lymphoma is commonly encountered in the paranasal sinuses, mandible, maxilla, and Waldeyer ring. Burkitt lymphoma occurs more frequently in children and young adults and frequently affects the maxilla and mandible, with a greater distribution of involvement at a lower frequency. On imaging studies, the lymph nodes of HL and NHL are homogeneous and variable in size, with an average diameter from 2 to 10 cm. They may enhance slightly to moderately, display necrosis before and after treatment, and display calcification post-treatment. NHL in extranodal sites in the head and neck (nasopharynx, Waldeyer ring, oral cavity, and larynx) manifests frequently as a submucosal mass accompanied [figure: see text] by polypoid, bulky masses with a smooth mucosal surface. Clinically aggressive lymphomas, such as Burkitt lymphoma, diffuse large B-cell lymphoma, and NK-/T-cell lymphomas are characterized by destruction of the maxilla, mandible, and bones around the paranasal sinuses, which is indistinguishable from bony destruction in other malignant tumors, such as SCC. Contrast CT is indicated for evaluation of cervical lymph nodes; the chest, including the mediastinum; the pelvic cavity; paranasal sinuses; and orbits. CT is also useful for detection of bone destruction involving the base of the skull, paranasal sinuses, and the mandible or maxilla. MR imaging is preferred for the assessment of extension of lymphomas to different fascial spaces (parapharyngeal, masticator, infratemporal fossa, tongue, and nasopharynx) and for intracranial extension. Lymphomas are isodense to muscle on CT and circumscribed with distinct margins that occasionally display extranodal extension with less-well-defined margins and areas of necrosis within the tumor matrix. Lymphomas appear low in signal intensity on T1-weighted images and low to high in signal intensity on T2-weighted images, with variable, but usually low, enhancement following introduction of Gadolinium-DTPA (Gd-DTPA) contrast material.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Head and Neck Neoplasms / classification
  • Head and Neck Neoplasms / diagnostic imaging*
  • Head and Neck Neoplasms / pathology*
  • Hodgkin Disease / classification
  • Hodgkin Disease / diagnostic imaging*
  • Hodgkin Disease / pathology*
  • Humans
  • Lymphoma, Non-Hodgkin / classification
  • Lymphoma, Non-Hodgkin / diagnostic imaging*
  • Lymphoma, Non-Hodgkin / pathology*
  • Radiography