What is Lymphoma?
Lymphoma is a cancer that develops from a subtype of white blood cells called lymphocytes, important members of our immune system. The roles of a normal lymphocyte are to fight viral infections and to control immunologic reactions in our bodies including the production of antibodies. Abnormal lymphoma cells multiply and accumulate in patient’s body, usually in the lymphatic system which is composed of lymph nodes in the neck, armpits, groin, chest, and abdomen. These cells are also responsible for the impairment of the patient’s immune system making them prone to infections.
Two main types of lymphoma:
- Hodgkin’s lymphoma is a form of lymphoma that is characterized by treatment options that can cure a majority of patients even if the lymphoma has spread throughout the body. It represents a minority of patient population with lymphomas.
- Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma is the more common type of lymphoma that is very diverse in nature comprising over 80 different subtypes and therefore different treatment approaches. Importantly, it can be divided into a slow growing (or indolent) and a rapidly growing (or aggressive) disease. Additionally, it can be divided according to the type of lymphocytes it originates from. The most common type comes from B lymphocytes, cells responsible for antibody production. Less common Non-Hodgkin lymphomas originate from T cells or Natural Killer cells, both of which are important regulators of our immune system.
Symptoms of Lymphoma
The most common symptoms of lymphoma are:
- Painless swelling of the lymph nodes in the neck, armpit, or groin
- Persistent fatigue
- Night sweating
- Unexplained fever
- Unexplained weight loss
- Loss of appetite
Causes and Risk Factors of Lymphoma
Male sex and older age carry greater risk for developing lymphoma. Additionally, family history of lymphoma, a personal history of mononucleosis or infection with the Epstein-Barr virus, that causes mononucleosis, also increase the risk for developing lymphoma. A weakened or dysregulated immune system, especially in those infected with HIV or AIDS and patients with autoimmune diseases, is a risk factor for lymphoma. Exposure to certain chemicals and pesticides can also increase the risk of getting lymphoma.
Treatments for Lymphoma
The treatment for lymphoma varies accordingly to the type of lymphoma:
- Hodgkin lymphoma is treated with biological therapy, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, and stem cell transplantation.
- Non-Hodgkin lymphoma is treated with biological therapy, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, and stem cell transplantation