Lymphoma, also called non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, is a cancer originating in the lymphatic system of your body. Lymphocytes are white blood cells that become abnormal and begin to develop tumors in the lymph tissues located throughout your body. Hodgkin’s lymphoma is a rare type of lymphoma and most people are diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s. Non-Hodgkin’s affects more men than women.
Lymphocytes normally die, and your body replaces them with new ones, but in lymphoma, your body produces abnormal lymphocytes that quickly divide and multiply. Most lymphomas start in white blood cells called B cells which fight infection by producing plasma cells. These cells crowd out normal cells and cause the lymph nodes to swell.
Symptoms will depend on what area of the body has been infected. Generally symptoms will include fever, severe itching, night sweats, weight loss and swollen lymph nodes in the neck, underarms or groin. Other symptoms may include nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain and constipation. Shortness of breath may be a symptom if the cancer is in lymph nodes in the chest. Lymphoma located in the brain may cause headaches, seizures, changes in personality and loss of concentration.
Your doctor will begin with an exam of your swollen lymph nodes. Blood tests identify whether an infection is causing swelling. A CT scan can detect tumors in your neck, chest, pelvis and abdomen. A lymph node biopsy will tell the doctor what type of lymphoma you have and what grade it is. Low-grade means growing slowly, intermediate at a moderate speed and high-grade is a rapid progression. Grade rate will help your doctor determine what treatment is best for you.
Treatment is determined by the grade and type of lymphoma you have. Standard treatment for this cancer will include chemotherapy. A combination of chemotherapy drugs will be given for intermediate or high-grade lymphomas and a single drug for low-grade. Chemotherapy can weaken bone marrow in patients with lymphoma, so healthy stem cells may be taken from bone marrow or your blood. After chemotherapy is over, the stem cells are injected back into your body to help negate the side effects chemotherapy has on bone marrow. Radiation may be used for early and intermediate stages of the cancer. Rituxan is a drug that aids the immune system in destroying cancer cells. Radioimmunotherapy drugs such as Zevalin and Bexxar attach to cancer cells to help guide radiation to kill the cells. These drugs have serious side effects, including hemorrhaging and life-threatening infections.
Find out all you can regarding your cancer and treatment. The more informed you are the better care you can give yourself. Call the National Cancer Institute at 1-800-422-6237 for questions regarding your cancer. Also, you can find answers at Americancancersociety.org.