Lymphoma is a type of cancer of the blood where lymphocyte – a component of the blood grows at an abnormal rate. They are often present as a solid tumor in certain parts of the body like lymph nodes, bone marrow, spleen etc. In most cases, the causes are not known. The common symptoms include fever, chills, fatigue, pain in lymph nodes and other specific areas of the body. Chemotherapy, radiation therapy and bone marrow transplantation are the most common treatment options for lymphoma.

B or T lymphocytes are a component of the blood. They help the body to fight against infections and form a part of the immune system. They are found in the lymph tissue which forms the lymphatic glands. Lymphoma is a type of cancer of the blood that affects the lymph nodes. The result is that the lymphocytes begin to behave in an abnormal manner. They also multiply rapidly and prevent normal cells from being formed till they overwhelm the system. However, with timely intervention, certain types of lymphomas can be cured completely.

Types of lymphoma and their causes

There are two common types of lymphoma and a third, lesser known type. They have been described as follows:

Name Description Causes
Hodgkin lymphoma It is the cancer of the lymph tissue found in spleen, lymph nodes, bone marrow etc. The cause is unknown.
Prior infection with HIV or Epstein Barr virus is seen to increase the risk of this disease.
Non Hodgkin lymphoma It is the cancer of the B lymphocytes found in lymph tissues The cause is unknown.
The disease mostly develops in people with weakened immune system. Prior HIV infection or organ transplantation increases the risk.
Burkitt lymphoma It is a rare type of disease mostly observed in African children. It is common in males. In Africa, it is linked to the Epstein Barr virus, but no such link has been found in the USA. Weakened immune system increases the risk

Lymphoma is a common cancer of the blood experienced in the USA. The following table helps you to understand some common facts regarding lymphoma:

Incidence of lymphoma per 100000 population in 2012 12.5
Number of people living with lymphoma in USA in 2012 694577
Number of expected deaths from lymphoma in USA in 2012 20130
New cases of lymphoma reported in 2012 79190
Five year relative survival rate of lymphoma for those diagnosed before 45 years of age 93.1%
Increase in relative survival rate for Hodgkin lymphoma between 1975 to 2012 72% to 87%
Increase in relative survival rate for non Hodgkin lymphoma between 1975 to 2012 47% to 71%

Signs and symptoms of Lymphoma

The most common signs and symptoms of Hodgkin lymphoma are as follows:

  • Intermittent fever, night sweat and chills.
  • Swelling of lymph glands in neck, groin or armpit.
  • Unexplained weight loss.
  • Flushed skin
  • Coughing and itching
  • Excessive sweating
  • Loss of appetite.

The first most common symptom to appear is swollen lymph glands whose cause cannot be explained. The disease then spreads to the spleen and the bone marrow. The most common signs and symptoms of non Hodgkin lymphoma are as follows:

  • Most of them are the same as that of the Hodgkin lymphoma.
  • Pain in the abdomen.
  • Sweating, vomiting and nausea.
  • Headache leading to seizures.
  • Changes in personality.

Diagnosis of lymphoma

When you experience any of the above symptoms, the doctor will order a number of diagnostic tests to check for lymphoma. These are as follows:

  • The first step is a physical exam where the doctor checks your lymph nodes to make sure whether there are pain and swelling.
  • If he suspects lymphoma, he will order a biopsy of the lymph tissue.
  • Certain blood tests are done. These include complete blood count and testing for protein, urea, kidney function etc.
  • CT scan of chest, abdomen and pelvis may be done.
  • PET scan and Gallium scan (in case of non Hodgkin lymphoma) are done.
  • In certain cases, bone marrow biopsy has to be done.

It is necessary to identify whether the lymphoma is indolent or aggressive. People can live for a long time without developing any symptoms if they have indolent lymphoma. That is why diagnosis is important. Specific genetic trends are noticed in the incidence of the disease. Lymphoma is also more common among males than females.

Treatment options for lymphoma

Lymphoma can be cured with timely intervention and proper treatment. The type of lymphoma, the spread of the disease, the age of the patient and prior medical history are all important in determining the best treatment for lymphoma.

  • If the lymphoma is localized on the skin or occurs as extra-nodal tumors in spleen and abdomen, they are treated with surgery.
  • The most widely used line of treatment option for lymphoma is chemotherapy.
    1. Drugs are given to kill of the abnormal cells circulating throughout the body.
    2. The drugs also aim to suppress the creation of new batches of abnormal lymphocytes.
    3. They are given in cycles. This allows the patient to recover from the side effects like anemia and allow the creation of new healthy white blood cells.
    4. The common drugs used to treat Hodgkin lymphoma are ABVD and MOPP. Apart from these, BEACOPP with its seven different components have been shown to have beneficial impact.
    5. For non Hodgkin lymphoma, CHOP (cyclophosphamide, doxorubicin, vincristine and prednisone) is commonly used. Other variations depend on the stage and type of the disease.
  • Immunotherapy are also used. Antibiotics are given to produce antibodies in the blood which often work with chemotherapy.
  • Radiation therapy uses rays to kill off the tumors. Today, radiation coupled with real time imaging helps doctors to concentrate blasts of radiation at the affected areas and bring about better prognosis.
  • In some cases, stem cell transplantation is tried.
  • Traditional medicine like acupressure may be used to drain the lymph nodes. Recent researches suggest Fucoidan found in seaweeds can hold a natural cure for lymphoma.