The lymphatic system is a network of nodes, tissues, cells and lymph fluid that runs throughout the body and aids the immune system's fight against infections. Cancer of the lymph system's lymphocytes (a type of white blood cell) is known as lymphoma. Lymphoma is further characterized as either Hodgkins lymphoma or non-Hodgkins lymphoma. Non-Hodgkins lymphoma may present itself as a slow-growing but insidious cancer or as a more aggressive yet visible cancer. Prognosis depends on which form of NHL you have, your body's response to chemotherapy, your age and your overall health.
The main form of treatment against both slow-growing indolent lymphoma and aggressive lymphoma is chemotherapy. Chemotherapy refers to specific cancer drugs that go after cancer cells and eliminate them. Since the lymphatic system covers most of the body and lymphoma may present itself in various places throughout the lymphatic system, chemotherapy's widespread range ensures that the chemicals will reach most of the infected areas.
In order to ensure the best prognosis, your doctor will administer chemotherapy a few times a week for several weeks at a time. Each chemotherapy cycle is followed by a rest period of a few weeks, and then another cycle begins. The number of chemotherapy cycles depends on the severity and characteristics of the NHL, your age and your overall health levels. While your doctor may try a whole range of drugs to treat your cancer, one of the most relied upon drug cocktails mixes cyclophosphamide, doxorubicin, vincristine and prednisone.
Overall Lymphoma Prognosis
The American Cancer Society pegs overall non-Hodgkins lymphoma survival rates at 65 percent for five-year survival and 54 percent for 10-year survival. Specific prognosis depends on what type of NHL you have. Survival rates are lower for people with slow-growing, but initially asymptomatic indolent lymphomas and survival rates are high for people with fast-growing, highly symptomatic lymphomas. In addition, factors such as age make a large difference in survival rates. People younger than 45 respond best to chemotherapy treatment and have the fewest relapses.
Indolent lymphoma refers to paradoxical forms of lymphoma that are highly treatable in the early stages but usually produce no symptoms until they have progressed substantially. The most common indolent lymphoma is known as follicular lymphoma. Indolent lymphomas produce symptoms once they have spread to other regions of your body such as your spleen. Chemotherapy may initially work on indolent lymphomas but recurrence is very frequent. According to New York Times Health data, the average person with indolent lymphomas lives between seven and 10 years after diagnosis.
While aggressive forms of lymphoma are extremely fatal if not treated, they often produce symptoms such as swollen lymph glands and night sweats in the early stages. Diffuse large B-cell lymphoma is particularly responsive to chemotherapy. The American Cancer Society predicts that up to 75 percent of people who receive the proper chemotherapy treatment will initially remain cancer-free. Overall, 50 percent of people with diffuse large B-cell lymphoma will never have a relapse after treatment.
The International Prognostic Index
The International Prognostic Index breaks down five risk factors that influence your NHL prognosis. These risks factor are age above 60, stage III or IV lymphoma, cancer that has metastasized outside the lymphatic system, high levels of the LDH protein and your overall functional health. The less of these risk factors you have, the greater your prognosis and life expectancy. Thus if you are young, only have stage I or II NHL and don't have any other risk factors, your chances of survival are quite high.
- Photo Credit Lymphatic system diagram; Public domain image (from commons.wikimedia.org)
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