Lymphomas are considered to be a treatable form of cancer if detected early. The overall 5-year survival rate for non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL) is 62%, whereas the 5-year survival rate for Hodgkin lymphoma is 92% if detected early.
What is lymphoma?
Lymphoma is cancer that affects the lymphatic system. The lymphatic system is a part of the body’s immune system, which helps in filtering foreign cells and microorganisms. The lymphatic system comprises lymph fluid, lymph nodes, tonsils, thymus, and spleen.
Lymphoma usually originates in the lymph nodes and other lymph tissue, although the skin may also be affected sometimes.
Lymph tissues are present in:
- Bone Marrow
- Digestive tract
Lymphomas are broadly classified as non-Hodgkin lymphoma and Hodgkin lymphoma. Non-Hodgkin lymphoma is more common than Hodgkin lymphoma. Physicians distinguish the lymphomas by the presence of the Reed-Sternberg cell, which is absent in the non-Hodgkin lymphoma. Reed-Sternberg cells are giant cells present in the lymph fluid and are easily detectable under the microscope.
How do you get lymphoma?
The exact source of the disease is unknown; however, multiple conditions act as risk factors, in the development of the disease:
- Family history of lymphoma
- Exposure to various chemicals present in the herbicides, pesticides, solvents, and preservatives
- Genetic disorders, such as down syndrome
- Celiac disease, where the patients cannot digest a protein (gluten) that is present in the wheat
- Inherited immune-deficiency disease
- Helicobacter pylori infection associated with stomach cancer
- Viral infections, such as HIV, Epstein-Barr virus, and hepatitis C virus
- Autoimmune disorders, such as Sjogren syndrome and Hashimoto thyroiditis
- Inflammatory bowel disease
- Exposure to radiation and chemotherapy
- Chromosomal abnormalities
- Age above 60 years
- Women with breast implants
- Alcohol intake
- Diets high in fat and meat products
- Ultraviolet exposure
What are the symptoms and signs of lymphoma?
Lymphoma exhibits different signs and symptoms; however, one or more symptoms don’t confirm the disease. Different underlying conditions may exhibit similar symptoms. The most common symptoms observed are:
- Swollen lymph nodes
- Fever with chills
- Enlarged abdomen
- Weight loss
- Chest pain or discomfort
- Shortness of breath or cough
- Easy bruising or bleeding
- Frequent and severe infections
- Abdominal fullness
- Abnormal night sweats
- Abdominal pain
- Nausea or vomiting
- Double vision
- Facial numbness
- Slurring speech
- Itchy skin
- Red or purple lumps under the skin
How do physicians diagnose lymphoma?
A physician utilizes a variety of tests and examination to diagnose non-Hodgkin lymphoma:
Medical history and physical exam: A complete medical history about the signs and symptoms will be listed. The physician will examine some swelling and infection of the lymph nodes. Some blood tests will be carried out for detecting any infection.
Biopsy: A small amount of tissue is taken from the swollen nodes and examined under a microscope.
- Excisional or incisional biopsy: Excisional biopsy involves removal of the entire lymph node for diagnosis whereas incisional biopsy involves removal of a small part of the tumor.
- Needle biopsy: A less invasive procedure as compared to excisional biopsy.
- Bone marrow aspiration: These are done to confirm if the lymphoma has reached the bone marrow.
- Lumbar puncture: This test detects the lymphoma cell in the brain.
- Pleural or peritoneal fluid sampling: Lymphoma, if spread to the chest and abdomen can be traced using this method.
Laboratory tests involve flow cytometry and immunohistochemistry in which the biopsy samples are treated with antibodies. It tells us the structure of the cancer cells.
Blood tests, such as complete blood cell count, blood chemistry tests, and lactate dehydrogenase tests, help in diagnosing the advancement of the disease.
How is lymphoma treated?
The various treatment options include:
- Chemotherapy: The physician administers this drug via oral or injection route.
- Radiation therapy: High dose of radiation terminates the cancer cell.
- Stem cell transplant: Physician injects healthy stem cells taken from the donor before the treatment.
- Biological drugs: Certain drugs, such as Rituxan (rituximab) and Gazyva (obinutuzumab), enhance the immune system’s ability to combat cancer cells.
- Targeted therapy drugs: Certain drugs, such as Velcade (bortezomib), target the growth of lymphoma cells.
- Surgery: It may be preferred if the lymphomas are present in the spleen or stomach and have not spread beyond that.
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