Lymphoma is a type of cancer that attacks the immune system and the lymphocytes
The cause of lymphoma has not been correctly determined by doctors
Screening tests do not exist, yet for this type of cancer
What is lymphatic system and how is it related to lymphoma?
There are two different types of lymphomas.
The difference is in the type of lymphocytes involved. This can be observed by looking at the cancer cells through a microscope.
Hodgkin's disease or Hodgkin's lymphoma:
The cancer starts in the lymphatic tissue
First described by Thomas Hodgkin in 1832
The abnormality occurs in the B-lymphocytes
More common in children over 5 years of age
In childhood, this disease is more prevalent among boys
Among young adults, the probability is equal for both young boys and girls
Non Hodgkin lymphoma(NHL):
This type of cancer occurs more often among children
It starts in the lymphoid tissue but it can develop outside the lymph nodes, e.g. stomach
The two types of NHL are:
B-Cell lymphoma- located in the head,neck, throat and abdomen
T-Cell lymphoma- located in the chest
What is lymphatic system and how is it related to lymphoma?
To have a better understanding of lymphoma, a basic understanding of the workings of the lymphatic system is vital.
The main function of the lymphatic system is:
Fighting infection and other diseases
Movement of fluids in the body
The lymphatic system consists of
Lymphoid tissue: Includes lymph nodes and other organs that form a part of the immune and blood forming system
Lymph: A clear fluid that is circulated by the lymphatic system. It carries waste products and excess fluid from tissues,lymphocytes and other immune system cells.
Lymphatic vessels: Thin-walled small tubes with valves, very similar to blood vessels. They help in distributing the lymph to various parts of the body.
Major sites of Lymphoid tissue:
The lymphoid tissues are present throughout the body and therefore, lymphoma can start anywhere.
They are kidney shaped structures that act as filters for harmful substances
They are made up of lymphocytes and other immune system cells
Lymph nodes occur in the chest,abdomen and pelvis and sometimes can be felt under the skin in the neck,under arms and in the groin
They get bigger when they fight an infection. Such kinds of lymph nodes are called as reactive or hyperplastic nodes.
It is an organ situated to the left of the stomach,in the upper far left corner of the abdomen
Acts as a filter for the blood-borne
Old red blood cells are recycled
Platelets and WBCs(White Blood Cells) are stored
Helps fight certain types of Pneumonia-causing bacteria
Bone Marrow is a spongy, gelatinous tissue found in the hollow spaces in the interior of bones
Help in producing blood and connective tissue cells
It is a triangular shaped organ located behind the breast bone, but in front of the heart
Helps in the training and development of T-lymphocytes, an extremely important type of White
Blood Cells. They defend the body from deadly pathogens like bacteria, virus and fungi.
Adenoids and Tonsils:
Tonsils are situated at the back of the throat and the adenoids, higher up, behind the nose
Protects the body against infection by producing antibodies against germs that are breathed in or swallowed
Digestive tract: The intestines, stomach and other organs also have lymphatic tissues
Lymphocyte: Lymphatic tissue is mainly made up of lymphocytes, a form of White Blood Cell(WBC).
They are of two kinds
B-Lymphocytes: B cells produce antibodies. These antibodies fasten themselves to germs so that they can be destroyed by the immune system. Hodgkin's disease start in B-lymphocytes
T-Lymphocytes: T cells destroy some types of bacteria and also fight infection. Other types of T- cells, stimulate or slow down, immune cell activity
What increases the risk of developing lymphoma?
There are some things that are known to increase the risk of lymphoma. Some of these factors are more in common with lymphoma patients. They have not been found to be causes of the disease as such.
Problems in the Immune System: When the immune system has been weakened by some other medical condition. Such as,
Being on Immunosuppressive drugs: These drugs are taken so that the body does not reject organ or bone marrow transplant
Genetic disorder of Immune System: This is usually rare and often show up in young children
Over-active Immune System: People with autoimmune disorders suffer from this. Autoimmune disorder occurs when the immune system mistakenly attacks its own body's healthy cells.
Some viruses are the cause of lymphoma, directly or indirectly
Some of them live in the lymphocyte cells and make them grow and divide. Some cause infections which affect the immune system, over a period of time.
Some infections are common, and people suffering from them don't necessarily develop lymphoma
It is not a genetic disease. People suffering from lymphoma don't normally have a family history of the disease
However, having a relative with lymphoma does double the risk of developing it
Previous Cancer Treatment: Chemotherapy and Radiotherapy sometimes cause damage to the genes of the lymphocytes. This again increases the chance of lymphoma
Old Age:Older people are susceptible to this disease as genes change when a body grows old, but the body is unable to repair them.
Chemicals:Industrial chemicals, hair dyes and pesticides have come up as possible risk factors
Smokers have a higher possibility of developing a low-grade non Hodgkin lymphoma or EBV-linked Hodgkin lymphoma
A diet consisting of a larger portion of fruits and vegetables, rather than red meat, animal fats and dairy, have shown to lessen the risk of cancer
Regular physical exercise also brings down the risk of lymphoma
What are the symptoms of lymphoma?
Swollen painless lymph nodes, in the area of the neck,armpit or groin
Coughing, with breathing trouble and chest pain
Pain or a feeling of fullness in the abdomen region
Weakness or Exhaustion
Unexplained weight loss
What tests are suggested for lymphoma?
The doctor first performs a physical examination for swollen lymph nodes. If nodes are swollen, it does not mean that it is cancer. It can mean that there is an infection in the node, unrelated to cancer.
A lymph node biopsy may be performed, to check for cancer cells. By this procedure, a part or whole of the lymph node is removed to be tested, or a needle is used to remove some tissues from the affected organ.
Blood test: A Complete blood count (CBC) is conducted to rule out other conditions like leukemia or anemia. A CBC confirms if platelet or WBC count is low which indicates that lymphoma is present in the bone marrow and/or blood.
Bone Marrow Biopsy: It is done to determine the presence of abnormal lymphoid cells
Molecular Genetic Typing: It looks for changes in the genes, proteins,etc. in the cancer cells. This helps the doctor to find out the type of lymphoma the patient is suffering from.