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Understanding Lymphoma: Types, symptoms, causes, stages and treatment

Team AckoOct 14, 2022

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Lymphoma affects young adults aged 15 to 39 years and older adults aged 75 and above. Its symptoms are often mistaken for other illnesses. So, individuals who experience persistent fever without any infection should visit a doctor for a diagnosis. This article will give you an overview of Lymphoma Cancer, including its types, symptoms, causes, stages, and effective treatment options. But first, let’s discuss the lymphatic system.

Lymphoma Cancer

Contents

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Role of the lymphatic system

It is a body's filter system as it maintains the fluid balance and removes the excess fluid that leaks out of blood vessels. Also, it helps in absorbing fats and fat-soluble nutrients and protects the body from unwanted germs.

What is Lymphoma Cancer?

Lymphoma is a type of cancer that occurs in germ-fighting cells (lymphocytes) of the lymph system, which is a part of the immune system. It spreads to the other portions of the lymphatic system, including lymph nodes, thymus, tonsils, bone marrow, and spleen. It can even invade the liver, lungs, and different organs throughout the body.

Types of Lymphoma

There are mainly two types of Lymphoma, Non-Hodgkin, and Hodgkin.

  1. Non-Hodgkin (NHL): This is the common type of Lymphoma Cancer, which begins in B and Y lymphocytes in the lymph nodes. These lymphocytes multiply themselves abnormally and lose their infection-fighting properties. 

  2. Hodgkin (HL): It develops when Reed-Sternberg cells (abnormal), which are white blood cells (b lymphocytes), occur in the lymph nodes. There are two types of HL, which are: classic Hodgkin Lymphoma and nodular lymphocyte-predominant Hodgkin Lymphoma (NLPHL). Note that the classic HL has more Reed-Sternberg cells, and HLPHL has different abnormal cells.

Classic Hodgkin Lymphoma is further divided into four types.

1. Nodular sclerosing 

It is a common type of HL that affects lymph nodes in the central part of the chest. It is often discovered at an early stage and found in young adults.

2. Mixed cellularity 

In this subtype of HL, lymph nodes contain a mixture of many different cell types and Reed-Sternberg cells. It affects individuals in their 60s.

3. Lymphocyte-rich

Individuals with this subtype contain several normal lymphocytes and a few Reed-Sternberg cells.

4. Lymphocyte depleted

In this type of HL, lymph nodes contain ample fibrous tissue and some Reed-Sternberg cells. It is very rare and affects people above 60.

Lymphoma symptoms

Individuals may not always experience any symptoms in the early stage of Lymphoma Cancer. That is why they are easily overlooked. However, the early signs of Lymphoma may include.

  • Persistent swelling of lymph nodes in the neck, armpit, abdomen, or groin that are painless

  • Ongoing fever without infection

  • Cough

  • Weight loss

  • Itchy skin

  • Chills

  • Stomach pain

  • Shortness of breath

  • Night sweats

  • Loss of appetite

  • Persistent fatigue

Many of these signs are similar to other infections like cold. Some people may face pain, paralysis, and weakness if an enlarged gland presses against the spinal cord. It is misunderstood as back pain. That said, similar symptoms may lead to misdiagnosis. It is always better to check with a doctor if your signs do not subside in a few days.

Causes and risk factors of Lymphoma

Doctors are still unclear on what causes these infection-fighting lymphocytes to multiply rapidly. 

Risk factors for Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma

  • If you are 60 years and above

  • Men are at higher risk, but some types are common in women 

  • Certain infections such as Epstein-Barr virus (EBV), hepatitis C, etc. may cause this cancer

  • Exposure to nuclear radiation and chemicals in fertilisers, pesticides, and herbicides 

  • Those with autoimmune diseases like rheumatoid arthritis and celiac disease are at increased risk 

  • Individuals who consume immune system-suppressing medication after an organ transplant or HIV

Risk factors for Hodgkin Lymphoma

  • HL is diagnosed in individuals between the ages of 20 to 30 and those who are over 55

  • Men are at higher risk 

  • Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) can cause mononucleosis which puts you at higher risk of developing HL

  • Those with HIV are at increased risk 

  • Individuals may develop it if their sibling has HL

Different stages of Lymphoma

Both types of Lymphoma Cancer are categorised into 4 stages. Also, the stages may include letters A, B, X, E, and S to indicate the specific signs individuals are facing.  

Stage 1: This is the first stage when the cancer is detected in only one lymph node or a region of one organ outside the lymphatic system.

Stage 2: This is also an early stage where the cancer is detected in two lymph nodes on the same side of the diaphragm.

Stage 3: In this stage, cancer invades several nodes above and below the diaphragm.

Stage 4: This is the advanced stage where the cancer is found in organs outside of the lymphatic system, like the lungs and liver.

A: Individual experiences no signs

B: Symptoms like sudden weight loss, fever, and drenching night sweats are experienced by the individual

X: The cancer is in the chest area and greater than 10 cm in size

E: This means that cancer has extended to the tissues and organs.

S: Cancer has invaded the spleen.

How is Lymphoma diagnosed?

A doctor will ask about your and your family’s medical history. Also, a physical examination will be conducted where the doctor will inspect the chin, neck, armpits, abdomen, and groin. These are the places where swelling may occur.

Apart from these, the following are certain tests that will confirm the presence of Lymphoma.  

Biopsy: To check lymph nodes or tissues.

Bone marrow aspiration: In this procedure, a small amount of fluid is removed from bone marrow to look for Lymphoma cells.

Blood tests: To evaluate the number of certain cells and confirm the infection in your blood.

Molecular test: To understand the type of Lymphoma Cancer one has.

Your doctor may request imaging tests such as CT scan, Ultrasound, MRI scan, PET scan, or X-ray of the abdomen, neck, chest, and pelvis.

Treatment options for Lymphoma Cancer

The course of treatment depends on the type and stage of Lymphoma. Your doctor can consider any of the following options to treat your condition.

Surgery: In this procedure, a surgeon removes the spleen or other affected organs.

Chemotherapy: It uses aggressive drugs to destroy cancer cells.

Targeted therapy: It targets the cells and combats their growth.

Immunotherapy: It uses an injection to stimulate the body’s immune system to kill cancerous cells.

Radiation therapy: It uses high-energy rays to attack and destroy Lymphoma cells.

Stem cell transplantation: It involves the use of high doses of chemotherapy to kill cancer cells and restore the damaged bone marrow.

Frequently asked questions

Here is a list of common questions and their answers pertaining to Lymphoma.

Is Lymphoma a serious type of cancer?

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Yes, it is a serious type of cancer, but treatment options are available.

How quickly does Lymphoma spread?

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In this type of cancer, lumps can grow in a matter of days and weeks. Hodgkin Lymphoma (HL) is aggressive cancer and can quickly invade the body.

How long is chemotherapy for Lymphoma?

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Depending on the signs and stage, the individual would get one dose of chemo every 2 to 3 weeks for 6 months.

Where do you itch with Lymphoma?

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Some individuals feel an itch throughout the body. Others will experience it in their hands, legs, and feet. Inching may worsen at night.

Can Lymphoma be completely cured?

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Most people with Hodgkin Lymphoma are eventually cured. Also, stages 3 and 4 of Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma are advanced and still treatable and often curable.

How does Lymphoma cause death?

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Usually, individuals die from Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma as it results in infections, organ failure, and bleeding.

References:

Disclaimer: The content on this page is generic and shared only for informational and explanatory purposes. It is based on several secondary sources on the internet. As this content piece is not vetted by a medical professional, please consult a doctor before making any health-related decisions.

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