Lymphoma Cancer Awareness Month
By Jane Meggitt
The lymphatic system protects the immune system and removes cellular waste. Lymphoma is a cancer of this vital system. September is Lymphoma Cancer Awareness Month.
Spread awareness of this disease by wearing a lime green ribbon and promoting discussion. This year, approximately 81,560 people will receive a diagnosis of non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL). Another roughly 20,720 will die from the disease. Early detection and treatment saves lives.
Lymph is the fluid that carries white blood cells as it travels through the lymphatic system. The B-cells — or B lymphocytes — help battle infections by creating antibodies. These are the white blood cells in which NHL usually starts.
There are two primary types of lymphoma. Hodgkin’s lymphoma develops when abnormal cells grow beyond the lymphatic system. Fortunately, Hodgkin’s lymphoma is often curable, even if diagnosed at an advanced stage.
NHL is either indolent or aggressive, growing at different rates. The former, as the name implies, is slow-growing and often causes no symptoms. The latter spreads quickly and usually produces severe symptoms.
Lymphoma has more than 70 subtypes. Among them is follicular lymphoma — the most common type of indolent NHL — which could spread to the spleen or bone marrow. It may also go away on its own. However, it can develop into a more aggressive type of lymphoma. Lymphoplasmacytic lymphoma, another fairly common type, occurs when B cells becoming plasma cells and make large amounts of the monoclonal immunoglobulin M (IgM) antibody causing blood plasma thickening. This form may spread to the spleen, bone marrow or lymph nodes.
Signs and Symptoms of Lymphoma
It’s best to read the warning signs as early as possible. Signs and symptoms of lymphoma include:
- Lymph node swelling in the neck, armpits or groin
- Constant itching
- Unexplained weight loss
- Shortness of breath
- Night sweats
While many of the symptoms of Hodgkin’s lymphoma and NHL overlap, the latter may include abdominal or chest pain and coughing. Should any of these symptoms persist, see your doctor as soon as possible.
Lymphoma Risk Factors
While the majority of those diagnosed with lymphoma are 55 or older, there are types of the disease commonly found in young adults. Men are at slightly higher risk than women of developing the disease.
Anyone with a compromised immune system is at increased risk for lymphoma. Those with autoimmune disorders such as rheumatoid arthritis or psoriasis may find themselves more vulnerable.
Previous exposure to the Epstein-Barr virus, which causes mononucleosis, or a Helicobacter pylori infection also raises the risk. HIV infection is an additional risk factor for NHL. Pesticide exposure has been linked to increased instances of NHL, as well.
Besides a physical examination and the taking of a medical history, lymphoma diagnostic procedures include blood and urine tests to rule out infection. Such tests do not diagnose lymphoma, per se.
A lymph node biopsy is necessary for an official diagnosis. From the lymph node sample, the exact subtype of lymphoma is determined. Imaging tests, such as MRIs and CT scans, are performed to ascertain whether the disease has spread elsewhere in the body.
You’ve probably heard of a bone marrow test. Bone marrow testing — involving the insertion of a needle into the hip to retrieve a sample — is a common diagnostic procedure, if the doctor thinks that is the disease’s origin site.
Treatment for Lymphoma Cancer
Lymphoma treatment depends on the disease’s stage and type. Those with indolent NHL may not need immediate treatment. Instead, they are monitored regularly to see if the disease is growing.
Hodgkin’s lymphoma is generally treated with chemotherapy and sometimes followed by radiation therapy. In more advanced cases, steroids are given in conjunction with chemotherapy.
NHL treatment may include:
Patients with advanced cases may receive a bone marrow or stem cell transplant. The procedure involves using high-dose radiation and chemotherapy for bone marrow suppression. The patient then receives healthy bone marrow cells via infusion to replace their bone marrow.
At Yosemite Pathology and Precision Pathology, we are your efficient, quality-focused partner in patient care. A leader in the advancement of anatomic pathology in the Western United States, Yosemite Pathology was founded in 1948 by a woman, Dr. Jeanne Miller, a UCSF-trained pathologist. Our staff now encompasses more than 30 board-certified anatomic pathologists.
We offer HEMAQ™ , premier hematopathology services capable of fulfilling unique hematology practice requirements. Our board-certified hematopathologists have extensive experience in histology preparation of bone marrow samples. For more information about our services and partners, contact us today.
Jane Meggitt’s work has appeared in dozens of publications including USA Today, Zack’s, Financial Advisor, nj.com, The Houston Chronicle and The Nest. She is a graduate of New York University.
KU Cancer Center – Lymphoma Awareness | The University of Kansas Cancer Center
Mayo Clinic – Lymphoma – Symptoms and causes – Mayo Clinic
Cancer.org – Key Statistics for Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma (cancer.org)