The Most Common Cancers: #7 Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma
Lymphoma is a cancer that occurs in the spleen, lymph nodes, lymphocytes (white blood cells), and other organs of the immune system. Lymphoma is dangerous because it can spread to other parts of the body.
There are two types of lymphoma, separated by the characteristics of the cancer cells: Hodgkin Lymphoma and Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma (NHL).
NHL begins when a lymphocyte or white blood cell becomes abnormal. Usually, abnormal cells die, but NHL cells begin to multiply. The multiplying abnormal cells do not protect the body as healthy white blood cells do, but instead grow into a mass or tumor.
Patients experience swollen and painful lymph nodes in their neck, armpits or groin, as well as sudden weight loss, fever and soaking night sweats. They may also have trouble breathing, chest pain and coughing. Other symptoms include prolonged weakness or tiredness, and pain or swelling in the abdomen or a feeling of fullness.
If you experience any of these symptoms for longer than two weeks you should consult your physician. He or she may run a number of tests that include checking your lymph nodes, spleen and liver for swelling. Blood tests will determine the number of white blood cells, and also give the level of lactate dehydrogenase (LDH), an enzyme involved with energy production. High levels of LDH indicate NHL.
Your doctor may also order chest x-rays to check your lymph nodes, spleen, and liver. If a mass is found, an entire lymph node, or just part of one, will be removed for analysis.
Any age group can get this disease, though the likelihood increases with age, and most with NHL are over 60.
Research has shown that certain risk factors increase the likelihood of NHL occurring. They include:
- A weakened immune system (caused by heredity or from organ transplant drugs);
- Certain infections;
- Epstein-Barr Virus
- Helicobacter pylori
- Human T-cell leukemia/lymphoma virus type 1 (HTLV-1)
- Hepatitis C virus
- Age (the risk increases as you get older).
In 2013, 69,740 new cases will be diagnosed estimates the National Cancer Institute.
Those new patients will have one of two types of NHL: Indolent or Aggressive. Indolent is a type that grows slowly and causes few symptoms.
Aggressive, on the other hand, grows at a rapid rate. The symptoms produced by the Aggressive form can be severe. If left unchecked or untreated, indolent lymphomas can often become the Aggressive type.
The treatment prescribed for NHL will vary depending on the type of lymphoma a patient has, his or her age, the stage of the cancer, and how quickly it is growing. Treatments that might be used include chemotherapy, radiation therapy, and biological therapy, which uses substances from living organisms to fight the disease.