Lymphoma is a form of blood cancer that happens when white blood cells begin behaving abnormally. White blood cells are a part of the immune system and normally help protect the body from disease and infection.
The abnormal white blood cells, which are B or T lymphocytes, start dividing much faster than normal cells and live longer than a normal cell would. Lymphoma cancer may develop in many areas of the body including the bone marrow, lymph nodes and other organs, with the white blood cells eventually forming tumors. The tumors go on to damage the surrounding tissue by depriving it of nutrients and oxygen.
Usually lymphoma is not spotted until a solid tumor of lymphoid cells has developed.A number of treatment types are utilised to combat this form of cancer, including bone marrow transplantation, radiotherapy, surgery and chemotherapy. Lymphoma often presents first in the lymph nodes as a tumor before moving on to other parts of the body as varied as the brain, the bowels and the skin. Lyphoma shares some similarities with lymphoid leukemias which also form in the blood and bone marrow. However unlike leukemia, lymphoma commonly forms tumors.
Unfortunately the early stages of lymphoma present a wide range of non-specific symptoms which may be confused with other conditions. If these symptoms continue on for an extended period, medical treatment should be sought and tests should be performed to detect if lymphoma is present.
A swelling of the lymph nodes is the first symptom, however it can be confused with the common cold and other immune system issues.
For lymphoma affecting the B lymphocytes some other symptoms include fever, night sweats and weight loss. Patients may also experience a loss of appetite, itching, fatigue and respiratory problems.
Lymphoma is diagnosed by a lymph node biopsy or a fine needle aspiration cytology. A process called Immunophenotyping is also used to help determine which type of lymphoma may be present, which helps determine treatment.
There are many types of lymphoma, ranging from aggressive forms with a poor prognosis all of the way through to forms of lymphoma that are indolent and can ignored without treatment.
Most types of lymphoma are somewhere between the aggressive and passive forms, and respond well to timely treatment. Prognosis largely depends on how early the disease is diagnosed and making certain the correct form of lymphoma is diagnosed.
Classification of Lymphoma
Hodgkin’s Lymphoma is probably the form of the disease that most people have heard about, name after the researcher Thomas Hodgkins. Hodgkins described lymphoma for the first time in 1832. Many forms of lymphoma have been discovered since then, leading to a complex classification system, broadly divided into Hodgkins Lymphoma and an initial 16 non-Hodgkin lymphoma varieties. However new forms of classification are being developed to further help doctors understand the new forms of lymphoma more easily – there are now 61 varieties of non-Hodkin’s lymphoma.
In the current classification system, there are 6 types of Hodgkin Lypmhoma (HL). Split into 4 histological subtypes: lymphocyte predominant, mixed cellularity, nodular sclerotic and lymphocyte depleted with nodular sclerotic being the most commonly found. Hodgkin Lymphoma involves the lymph node and the presence of B lymphocyte symptoms (fever, unexplained weight loss and/or night sweats). The prognosis of Hodgkins Lymphoma is usually good.
Non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL) is currently used to classify 61 types of lymphoma. At the moment, any lymphoma that does not involve Reed-Sternberg cells is called a non-Hodgkin lymphoma. NHL range from rare to somewhat common and have a large variance in prognosis.
The prognosis for lymphoma varies greatly depending on the form of lymphoma found and how early it was found. Radiation and chemotherapy are used to great success on low grade lymphoma to lessen the symptoms, but not cure the disease.
For more aggressive varieties of lymphoma, these treatment therapies can also work, but must be much more aggressive and if the lymphoma does not respond the prognosis is markedly worse. Treatment for aggressive lymphoma is usually centered around large amounts of chemotherapy with radiotherapy only used if the cancer is localised.