What is Lymphoma?

Lymphoma is a type of cancer that affects lympocytes, or a type of white blood cell that is a part of the lymphatic system. A healthy lymphatic system is able to help the body rid itself of waste products, and it is responsible for sending white blood cells to and from lymph nodes. If a person gets lymphoma, he or she may have infected bone marrow, lymph nodes, spleen, and various other organs in the body.

There are many kinds of lymphoma cancers, which fall under two categories: Hodgkin’s lymphoma and all other lymphomas (non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma). If a Reed-Sternberg cell””a type of irregular cell seen under a microscope””is present, then a patient’s cancer can be typed as Hodgkin’s lymphoma. If there are not Reed-Sternberg cells, then the patient has non-Hodgkin’s. If a person has an autoimmune disease or a poor immune system, he or she may be more likely to develop lymphoma. Viruses, like infectious mononucleosis, and a family history of the illness can also increase the risk of lymphoma.

What are the Symptoms of Lymphoma?

A distinct sign of Hodgkin’s lymphoma is a swelling in either the groin, armpits, or neck lymph nodes. This swelling does not usually present itself with any pain.

Other symptoms include overall itching, a swollen abdomen, pain in the abdomen, chest pain, night sweats, fever, fatigue, coughing, and muscle weakness.

Lymphoma Causes

Changes in the body’s genes or lymphocytes (a type of white blood cell) cause the onset of lymphomas. The changes affect the longevity of certain cells, allowing them to live longer than they normally would and also allowing them to multiply. A series of changes often leads to the development of a lymphoma. While science has learned that lymphoma is the result of a series of changes to our genes, researchers are still trying to determine exactly what prompts the changes in the first place. Employing the “multi-hit theory,” scientists suspect a number of variables affect how cells change to form a lymphoma.

While we still don’t know the direct causes of lymphoma, research has uncovered risk factors that may increase the likelihood of developing the condition. Immune system defects and some infections are among the likeliest risk factors, as well as advanced age. Additionally, a family history of lymphoma or previous battles with cancer may also increase the likelihood of developing lymphoma.

How is Lymphoma Treated?

Treatment for lymphoma is based on whether or not a patient has Hodgkin’s or non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. The patient’s preferences, how aggressive the cancer is, and where the cancer is located, also play a role. Biological therapy is sometimes used to help the body’s own immune system fight off the cancer.

Traditional treatments like chemotherapy or radiation therapy may be used. However, newer treatments like targeted therapy and stem cell transplants are available too. Targeted therapy uses chemicals that attack cancer cells, but leave normal cells alone. Stem cell transplants can allow patients to take on higher doses of radiation or chemotherapy that ordinarily wouldn’t be viable. Because high doses can kill bone marrow, the stem cells are vital in helping to repopulate new blood cells.

Lymphoma Prevention

Currently, there is no known way to prevent lymphoma and even the known risk factors are out of our control in most circumstances. The only possible way to prevent an onset of lymphoma may be in changing your lifestyle and exposure to illness. For example, protecting the immune system and limiting exposure to possible infections may reduce your risks.

Infection with HIV severely increases the risk of developing lymphomas, so reducing exposure to HIV is also helpful in avoiding lymphoma. This means having protected sex at all times and avoiding intravenous drug use.

In some cases, lymphomas are caused by treating other types of cancer or by immune-suppressing drugs, which are used to reduce the rejection rate of transplanted organs. Again, these treatments are necessary and, as such, can’t be avoided to reduce the risk of developing a lymphoma. However, medical research continues to look for healthier alternatives.