Lymphoma refers to a group of blood cancers that develop in the lymphatic system. The lymphatic system is part of the body’s immune system that fights infections and drains excess fluid from body tissues.
Lymphoma can start almost anywhere in the body. It may start in the lymph nodes or an organ such as the spleen. It can spread to any part of the body. Treatment can cure some people and may allow others to live for years. How well a treatment works depends mostly on the type of lymphoma and when it’s diagnosed.
Types of Lymphoma
The two types of lymphoma are:
- Hodgkin lymphoma – Circulates through lymph nodes and other organs, filtering out impurities and infections.
- Non-Hodgkin lymphoma – Develop when immune cells mutate or become damaged and begin to grow out of control, crowding out healthy immune cells.
The main symptom of both Hodgkin and non-Hodgkin lymphomas are:
- Swollen lymph nodes in the neck, under the arms, or in the groin
- Night sweats
- Extreme fatigue
- Unexplained weight loss
The known risk factors of Hodgkin Lymphoma are:
- Family history – Having a parent or sibling with the disease.
- Compromised immune system – Having a compromised immune system from HIV/AIDS, or from immunosuppressants to prevent organ transplant rejection.
The known risk factors of Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma are:
- Age – The risk of being diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma increases with age.
- Gender – Men have a slightly greater chance of developing the disease than women.
- Exposure – People exposed to certain chemicals, such as pesticides, fertilizers, herbicides and insecticides, may be at risk.
- Exposure to radiation – People exposed to nuclear or industrial sources may also increase risk
Diagnosis usually begins with a physical exam with the doctor checking for swollen lymph nodes and organs throughout the body to look for general signs of the disease.
- Blood tests – to check the numbers and appearance of the blood cells.
- Biopsy – to confirm the diagnosis.
- CT scans – of the chest and abdomen
- MRI – of the chest and abdomen
- Positron emission tomography (PET)
These additional tests are usually done to determine the stage of lymphoma. The stages range from Stage I (cancer limited to one area, such as one lymph node) to Stage IV (cancer is growing in many lymph nodes throughout the body or in the bone marrow or other organs).
- Radiotherapy – Used to destroy lymphoma cells to prevent them from spreading or to shrink painful tumours in the spleen or lymph nodes.
- Immunotherapy – draws from the body’s immune system to kill cancer cells or limit their growth.
- Chemotherapy – Chemotherapy for patients often consists of taking several drugs together in a set regimen.
- Targeted therapy – Uses immune cells engineered in a laboratory. These cells, when injected back into the body, are designed to target specific features in cells, killing them or preventing them from growing.