There is a large group of cancers involving the immune system, referred to as Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, which are five times more common than the other type of lymphoma, known as Hodgkin’s disease.
Lymphoma is cancer of the lymphatic system, the body’s defence network.
Tumors develop from the lymphocytes which are white blood cells. Non-Hodgkin’s lymphomas are categorized as either fast growing or aggressive, or slow growing or indolent.
In 2008 in the US, there were 66,120 new cases of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma reported, while 19,160 people died from this group of cancers.
Since the 1970s, occurrence of this cancer has been increasing, but the survival rate has improved along with this increase. It can affect people of any age, and the early signs include enlargement of the lymph nodes, weight loss and fevers.
As with most cancers, early detection and diagnosis greatly improves your chances of a successful outcome from the treatment. See your doctor promptly if you have the following symptoms:
- A persistent fever
- Unexplained weight loss
- Swelling of lymph nodes in your groin, underarm or neck area.
- Regular night sweats
- General fatigue
While the actual cause of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma isn’t clearly understood, it is known how the white blood cells are affected. The lymphocytes, instead of going through a normal life cycle, keep dividing and growing, and form masses of cells in the lymph nodes which creates the swelling.
These out-of-control lymphocytes can also be found elsewhere in the lymphatic system, in areas like the tonsils, adenoids, bone marrow and spleen. Less frequently they appear in organs outside the lymphatic system.
There are a few known contributing factors to people developing non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma; these include organ transplant recipients because of their immunosuppression; certain infections like AIDS and the bacterium that causes ulcers; some herbicides and pesticides; and being over sixty years of age.
Diagnosis by your doctor will be by way of a physical examination of your lymph nodes, comparing the swollen ones with those that appear normal; urine and blood sample testing to eliminate an infection from the diagnosis; and a CT scan or x-ray of the areas where tumors are suspected, to estimate their size; an MRI to see if your brain or spine is affected; PET scan to detect the presence of tumors; lymph node or bone marrow biopsy to determine the type of lymphoma and the extent of the spread of the disease.
You doctor will give you all the information regarding the treatment options and what is the best course of action for your particular case. It is really important to maintain a positive attitude throughout this process; even though you will have been devastated by the news you have just received.
Knowledge is power, so find out everything you can about non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma so you know what to expect. Ask all the questions you need to, and try to make the important decisions for yourself, taking a proactive role.