If you’ve ever crammed for an exam using a YouTube Crash Course, you might have had Hank Green teach you a few things about history, science, math and more. In a new YouTube video, posted on a joint channel with his brother John Green called “vlogbrothers,” the 42-year-old science video creator gave viewers an oncology lesson — using himself.
In the 13-minute video called “So, I have cancer,” Green goes over his diagnosis and treatment, which involved a biopsy and chemotherapy after he noticed he had enlarged lymph nodes and swelling in his armpit.
“Good, bad news. One, it’s cancer, it’s called lymphoma. It’s a cancer of the lymphatic system,” Green says in the video. “Good news is it’s something called Hodgkin’s lymphoma. It’s the most treatable — like, one of the most treatable cancers.”
Green is right. Hodgkin lymphoma is considered one of the most curable forms of cancer. The American Cancer Society estimated about 8,830 new cases of Hodgkin lymphoma in the U.S. in 2023, with a survival rate of 89% for all patients diagnosed.
As Green explains in his YouTube video, this particular cancer affects the lymphatic system, which produces and stores white blood cells. An abnormality in the DNA of a white blood cell can result in cancerous cells to multiply. Intensive radiotherapy or chemotherapy is typically used to treat it.
“The treatment is fairly well established. Like systems of chemotherapies, which I’m going to start very soon,” Green says.
“You know, this is the best time so far in history to get lymphoma, which is a very Hank Green thought,” he adds.
We asked experts about Hodgkin lymphoma, including the symptoms, risk factors and common treatment options:
What Is Hodgkin Lymphoma?
The lymphatic system consists of lymph nodes, organs and vessels, which help the body fight infections. There are approximately 600 Lymph nodes, which are found throughout the body, including the chest, abdomen, groin, pelvis, underarms, neck, spleen, behind the breastbone and tonsils. You can feel your lymph nodes in certain parts of the body, including the neck and groin — which should feel like soft, pea-sized lumps.
Our bodies have B cells, which create antibodies, and T cells, which kill bacteria, fungi and abnormal cells. Both of these cells are types of white blood cells that exist in the immune system. When these healthy cells in the lymphatic system grow and multiply uncontrollably, a tumor can form. Additionally, when a tumor involves other parts of the lymphatic system, it can also spread to other areas of the body. This is the mechanism for Hodgkin lymphoma.
Nikki Yuill, an oncology social worker and the director of the Information Resource Center at The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, told HuffPost that Hodgkin lymphoma is considered a type of blood cancer, which can be difficult to diagnose.
“Your doctor should take a comprehensive medical history and ask questions about any symptoms you might be experiencing,” Yuill said. “During the physical examination, all accessible lymph node groups, neck, underarms and groin, will be measured as well as the size of palpable organs such as the spleen and liver.”
Symptoms of Hodgkin lymphoma include swollen lymph nodes, fever, chills, night sweats, weight loss and itchy skin. Like Green, if enlarged lymph nodes are detected, a biopsy ― which is when a doctor removes a small amount of tissue to examine it ― is conducted to make a diagnosis.
If Hodgkin lymphoma is detected, “additional testing might be required to determine the type and stage of the cancer,” Yuill said.
Risk Factors For Hodgkin Lymphoma
The cause of lymphoma is unknown. However, possible triggers include genetic and environmental factors, certain infections and viruses, immunocompromised disorders or abnormalities in chromosomes or the immune system. Green indicated that he had combined factors that put him at risk for cancer.
“I have a bunch of risk factors for lymphoma, including medications I’ve taken, including the fact that I have an autoimmune disease, including the fact that I had mono when I was a kid,” Green said.
Mono, or mononucleosis, is associated with the development of some cancers, including Hodgkin lymphoma, Yuill said. However, very few who were infected will develop Hodgkin lymphoma.
“In Hank Green’s case, he has an autoimmune disease and disclosed he had mononucleosis as a child, although there’s no certain way to make a connection between these factors and his diagnosis,” Yuill explained.
Common Treatment Options For Hodgkin Lymphoma
The main treatment options for Hodgkin lymphoma include radiotherapy and chemotherapy, depending on the stage of the cancer, a person’s age, general health and the type and location of the lymphoma.
“Patient treatment plans are individualized,” Dr. Soyoung “Sara” Park, a hematologic oncologist at the American Board of Internal Medicine and City of Hope, told HuffPost. “Typically, a four-drug chemotherapy regimen is the frontline treatment for Hodgkin lymphoma. This will span about six cycles on average, depending on the stage of disease and other factors, with each cycle lasting about four weeks. So average treatment duration can potentially last about six months with frontline treatment.”
Chemotherapy allows for drugs to enter the bloodstream and target cancer cells, while radiation therapy uses high-energy rays to kill cancer cells. For people with Hodgkin lymphoma, radiation treatment begins after chemotherapy, working together to treat the disease.
“A proper diagnosis, including Hodgkin’s lymphoma’s subtype and stage is necessary to ensure a patient receives the right treatment,” Yuill said. “Treatment is evolving due to the development of new drugs and research findings from clinical trials. Some of the most common forms of treatment include chemotherapy and drug therapy, radiation, stem cell transplantation, and immunotherapy.”
In his video, Green shares that he has caught his diagnosis early and will begin chemotherapy shortly. Park said that checking your own lymph nodes can help in early diagnosis.
“It is helpful if patients check their own lymph nodes regularly, such as once or twice a week, for changes in size in their necks, bilateral armpits and groin areas,” Park explained. “Patients should discuss any concerns with their primary care physician or provider if they feel anything unusual.”