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.
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.
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.