Lymphoma (lymphatic cancer) is a type of blood cancer that begins in the lymphocytes – a kind of white blood cells. This cancer occurs when lymphocytes – the fighting cells of the immune system grow out of control. Lymphocytes are found in lymph nodes, bone marrow, spleen, thymus and other parts of the body. A person with lymphoma will have abnormal lymphocytes that divide rapidly or do not die after a specific time. It is an immune-system related cancer and must be diagnosed at earliest for effective treatment.
Types of Lymphoma
There are two main types of lymphoma – Hodgkin (HL) and Non-Hodgkin (NHL). Each of them affects a different kind of lymphocyte. There are two types of lymphocytes – B lymphocytes (B cells) and T lymphocytes (T cells).
Hodgkin lymphoma develops from B cells, and types of abnormal cells known as Reed-Sternberg that can be observed under a microscope. Hodgkin Lymphoma is of two main types – Classical Hodgkin Lymphoma and Nodular Lymphocyte-Predominant Hodgkin Lymphoma (NLPHL).
Non-Hodgkin lymphoma does not contain any Reed-Sternberg cells. However, NHL can develop from both B cells and T cells. NHL is classified into two types – High-grade non-Hodgkin lymphoma and Low-grade non-Hodgkin lymphoma.
Causes of Lymphoma
The causes of lymphoma in most cases are still not known; however, the following factors increase the risk of developing lymphoma:
- Age 60 and above
- First-degree relative who had lymphoma
- Weak immune system resulting from organ transplant, HIV/AIDS, or an autoimmune disease
- Infected with a virus such as hepatitis C, HHV8, HLTV-1, Epstein-Barr
- Previously treated for non-Hodgkin or Hodgkin lymphoma
- Radiation therapy
Symptoms of Lymphoma
People with lymphoma will show some specific symptoms which can be warning signs of other diseases as well. If someone has the following warning signs they should immediately get screened by a doctor:
- Swollen lymph nodes in the groin, armpit, or neck
- Shortness of breath
- Night Sweats
- Weight Loss
How is Lymphoma Diagnosed?
If a person has any of the symptoms, it is crucial to get screened for lymphoma because the sooner it is diagnosed the better are the chances of treatment. The following tests are conducted to diagnose a person with lymphoma:
- Bone marrow aspiration – Using a needle, the doctor takes a sample of fluid and tissue from the bone marrow. The sample is then tested for lymphoma cells.
- Blood Test – A blood test is conducted to check for the growth of abnormal cells (WBCs).
- PET Scan – PET (Positron emission tomography) scan detects radiation emitted by a radiotracer which is injected into the body.
- MRI – Magnetic Resonance Imaging is a test to detect lymphoma cells in the body by using powerful magnets and radio waves which make pictures of the organs.
- Molecular Test – A molecular test is conducted to look for changes to genes, proteins and other substances which may indicate lymphoma.
What are the treatment options for Lymphoma?
The treatment for lymphoma depends on various factors, such as:
- The type of lymphoma
- How far lymphoma has spread in the body
- The stage of the disease
- Parts of body that are affected
- Size of lumps of lymphoma
Both non-Hodgkin and Hodgkin lymphoma are treated with chemotherapy and radiotherapy. However, in case of non-Hodgkin lymphoma, immunotherapy is also used for an effective treatment.
Chemotherapy – It is the use of drugs to kill the cancer cells (lymphoma) in the body. It is not a targeted therapy and will affect healthy cells too.
Radiotherapy – It is the use of high-energy X-rays to kill the cancer cells. Radiation oncology also administers several other types of radiations to fight lymphoma. If radiotherapy is used with an aim to cure lymphoma, it is known as curative radiotherapy. However, if radiotherapy of cancer is used to control the symptoms, it is known as palliative radiotherapy.
Immunotherapy – This treatment option uses the body’s own immune system to attack the lymphoma cells.
However, there are cases where the patient does not respond to both chemotherapy and radiotherapy. In such cases, a stem cell transplant becomes the only treatment option. It is also used in instances when lymphoma comes back after treatment or if the doctor thinks that lymphoma is likely to relapse.
A stem cell transplant is done after chemotherapy and aims to supply blood stem cells to the body. There are two types of stem cell transplants –
- Autologous transplant – Uses a patient’s own stem cells
- Allogenic transplant – Uses stem cells from a donor
The immune system is indeed responsible for causing lymphatic cancer or lymphoma. In case a person suspects any of the symptoms or warning signs mentioned above, they must consult an oncologist immediately. We at Max Healthcare are proud to be labelled as best cancer hospital in India for treating various cancers including lymphoma.