What Is Lymphoma?
It is a cancer that originates in the lymphocytes (a type of white blood cells which is the germ-fighting system of the body). This cells usually present in lymph nodes, spleen, tonsils,
bone marrow, and thymus gland like organs, which help the body to fight off diseases. The cancer cells can affect all the organs of the lymphatic system and other organs of the body. The most common organs that this cancer spreads to are the liver, lungs, and bone marrow.
The lymphatic system moves lymph fluid throughout the body with the help of lymph nodes and vessels. These lymph fluids contain white blood cells, which fight off infections and prevent them from spreading. The lymph nodes trap and destroy bacteria and viruses that try to spread through the blood.
Treatment for lymphoma is decided based on its type and severity. The treatment options include chemotherapy, immunotherapy, radiotherapy, and bone marrow transplantation. It can affect people of any age, but it is commonly seen in children and young adults (15 to 24 years).
What Are the Types of Lymphoma?
The two main types of lymphomas are:
1) Hodgkin’s Lymphoma - Dr. Thomas Hodgkin, a pathologist, identified the cancerous cells in the 1800s, which is now known as Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Patients with this type of lymphoma have Reed-Sternberg (RS) cells, which are large cancerous cells. The subtypes include:
Nodular sclerosis Hodgkin’s lymphoma - It is the most common variety of Hodgkin’s lymphoma. It more commonly affects young adults. With the right treatment, this type is highly curable.
Lymphocyte-depleted Hodgkin’s disease - It is an aggressive and rare type of Hodgkin’s lymphoma. It only affects 1 % of the population, and more commonly patients with a compromised immune system. The prognosis is poor.
Lymphocyte-rich Hodgkin’s disease - It commonly affects men, and around 5 % of patients diagnosed with lymphoma are of this type.
Nodular lymphocyte-predominant Hodgkin’s disease - Otherwise called NLPHL, and affects almost 5 % of lymphoma patients. It affects people between 30 and 50 years of age, most commonly men.
Mixed cellularity Hodgkin’s lymphoma - Here, both lymphocytes and RS cells are present. It is a more common type of lymphoma and often affects older men.
2) Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma (NHL) - This is the more common type. Reed-Sternberg cells are not seen in patients with this type of lymphoma. Most commonly, B or T cells of the immune system get affected. The subtypes include:
What Are the Symptoms of Lymphoma?
Generally, lymphoma does not cause symptoms in the early stages, and it is usually diagnosed accidentally when an enlarged lymph node is found during routine physical examination. A single or multiple nodes may get enlarged in the neck, chest, armpit, groin, and stomach.
As symptoms are not specific, it is often overlooked. Some of the common signs and symptoms include:
Pain in the bones.
Skin rashes, which can itch.
Shortness of breath (dyspnea).
Unintentional weight loss.
These symptoms can occur in many conditions, so lymphoma is often diagnosed only during the later stages. If you have persistent enlarged node since long time with weight loss, then consult your doctor to check for lymphoma.
What Causes Lymphoma?
Although the exact cause of lymphoma is not known, it is believed to be caused when lymphocytes undergo a genetic mutation. This genetic mutation is responsible for the rapid growth and multiplication of abnormal lymphocytes. Abnormal lymphocytes, unlike the normal types, do not die, which results in too many diseased lymphocytes in the lymph nodes. This results in the swelling of the lymph nodes, spleen, and liver.
The following factors can increase the risk of lymphoma:
Females are susceptible to some types and males are susceptible to develop other types of NHL.
People with immunocompromised conditions or those who take immunosuppressant drugs.
People who get infected with Epstein-Barr virus and Helicobacter pylori infection are at risk of developing lymphoma.
Chemical and radiation exposure.
A positive family history.
What Are the Stages of Lymphoma?
The stages of lymphoma are based on how far the cancer has spread. The stages are:
Stage 1 - One lymph node or one organ gets affected.
Stage 2 - Two or more lymph nodes are involved on the same side of the diaphragm.
Stage 3 - Two or more lymph nodes are involved on both sides of the diaphragm.
Stage 4 - Cancer affects an organ and spreads to lymph nodes located far from it and affect many organs.
How Is Lymphoma Diagnosed?
You might be subjected to the following tests and procedures if your doctor suspects lymphoma:
Physical examination - To check for enlarged liver or spleen and lymph nodes in the neck, underarm, and groin.
Lymph node biopsy - A lymph node might be removed completely or partly for testing. It allows determining if lymphoma cells are present.
Bone marrow aspiration or biopsy - A is inserted into your hip bone in iliac crest, and a sample of bone marrow is collected. This sample is tested for the presence of lymphoma cells.
CT, MRI, or PET scan - These imaging tests are used to look for signs of lymphoma in other parts of your body.
How Is Lymphoma Treated?
The doctor will form a treatment plan depending on the type of lymphoma, its stage, the overall health of the patient, and the patient’s choice. The goal of treatment is to bring the disease into remission by destroying as many cancer cells as possible. The treatment options include:
1) Periodic checkups - If you do not have any signs or symptoms, or if you have a very slow-growing type of lymphoma, the doctor might wait for sometime before starting treatment. In the meantime, you have to go for periodic checkups.
2) Chemotherapy - Your doctor will prescribe drugs, which are either administered intravenously (IV) or orally, to kill rapidly-growing cancer cells.
3) Radiation therapy - Here, high-powered X-rays and protons are used to kill cancer cells.
4) Bone marrow or stem cell transplant - High doses of chemotherapy and radiation are used to kill cells in the bone marrow. After this, healthy bone marrow stem cells from a donor or your body are transplanted into the blood, which helps rebuild the bone marrow.
5) Biologic therapy or Immunotherapy - Here, drugs are used to stimulate the immune system to attack cancer cells.
6) Antibody therapy - Synthetic antibodies are injected into the blood, which respond to toxins produced by cancer cells.
7) Radioimmunotherapy - In this treatment option, high radioactive doses are introduced into B and T cancer cells to destroy them.
9) Surgery - Splenectomy (surgical removal of the spleen) or other organs are surgically removed after lymphoma has spread.
Prognosis depends on the stage and type of lymphoma. Not all types of lymphoma are curable, but some of them are. For some very slow-growing types, the prognosis is good even without treatment.
To know more about lymphoma, consult a cancer specialist online now!
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