Lymphoma: Cancer of the Lymph System
Your body’s lymph system helps get rid of toxins, waste and other unwanted materials. Its main job is to transport the fluid called “lymph,” which contains white blood cells that fight against infections.
Facts about lymphoma
Lymphoma is one of the most common cancers, and its rate of occurrence has been increasing in the United States. Doctors don’t know all of the causes, but believe that some lymphomas are caused by certain viruses.
Lymphoma develops when cells in the lymph system turn cancerous. Because the lymph system runs throughout the body, these cancer cells can travel far and wide and invade many organs. When this happens, many of the body’s functions can be harmed.
Three major categories of lymphoma
Scientists have found more than 20 types of lymphoma. The various types basically fit into three categories:
- Hodgkin lymphoma – This lymphoma is not very common. Most cases occur in adolescents or young adults, but older adults are sometimes affected.
- Low-grade non-Hodgkin lymphoma – This type can occur in any age group.
- High-grade non-Hodgkin lymphoma – This type can also occur in any age group.
Lymphoma risk factors
Different kinds of lymphoma can have different risk factors.
The major Hodgkin lymphoma risk factors are:
- Previous infection with Epstein-Barr virus or mononucleosis
- Seriously weakened immune system
- Family history (in a small percentage of cases)
Non-Hodgkin lymphoma risk factors include:
- Age, because most cases occur after age 60
- Exposure to chemicals, including benzene and some herbicides and insecticides
- Previous chemotherapy or radiation therapy
- Radiation exposure
- Infection with viruses such as HIV or the Epstein-Barr virus
- Some other chronic infections
The main symptoms of lymphoma are:
- Swollen lymph nodes in the neck, groin or elsewhere in the body
- Swelling in the stomach area
- Chronic fevers without an infection
- Night sweats
- Weakness or tiredness
- Unexplained weight loss
How to check for lymphoma
There is no screening test for lymphoma, but finding it early improves the chances for a cure. Diagnosing lymphoma usually involves a physical exam by your doctor and several kinds of tests. Your doctor will check for swollen lymph nodes and swelling of the spleen or liver. Your doctor may give you one or more of the following tests:
- Complete blood count – This test counts the number of certain cells in the blood.
- Other blood tests – These tests usually check kidney and liver function.
- Chest x-ray – An x-ray can show swollen lymph nodes or other signs of disease in your chest.
- Lymph node biopsy – The best way to diagnose lymphoma is to perform a biopsy of a lymph node and look for abnormal cells.
- Other tests – If doctors need to see how far the lymphoma has spread through the body, a number of other kinds of tests may be done.
Can lymphoma be cured?
The main lymphoma treatments include:
- Weakening the cancer with anti-cancer drugs (also called “chemotherapy”).
- Helping your immune system with biologic drugs that attach to the lymphoma cells.
- Using other drugs that can target the cancer cells directly.
- Bombarding the cancer with high-energy rays (also called “radiation therapy”).
- Bone marrow transplants, which are considered a very aggressive treatment.
Different types of lymphoma are treated differently—and some lymphoma is curable.
- Hodgkin lymphoma can be cured in many cases, especially when it’s found in the early stages. Doctors treat it with chemotherapy or radiation therapy. Sometimes these two treatments are combined. Even if a lymphoma patient has an advanced case, the disease may be curable. However, these patients may need a bone marrow transplant for a successful cure.
- Low-grade non-Hodgkin lymphoma is usually treated with chemotherapy. This treatment doesn’t cure the disease, but it can slow its progress. This lymphoma grows slowly and people can live with it for many years. The only way to cure low grade non-Hodgkin lymphoma is by bone marrow transplant, but many patients are not candidates for such aggressive treatment.
- High-grade non-Hodgkin lymphoma grows faster than low grade lymphoma. In some cases it can be cured with chemotherapy, but can also be resistant to chemotherapy or radiation. Some of those cases can be cured with a bone marrow transplant.
Regional Cancer Care Associates — Cancer care close to home
Regional Cancer Care Associates (RCCA) works with you to help you win over curable cancers like lymphomas. We are dedicated to delivering the highest-quality, most comprehensive and advanced treatment at a location close to your home. Care at RCCA means you’ll be diagnosed and treated by experts from one of the nation’s largest cancer care networks.