Cancer of the lymphatic system

Lymphomas are cancers of the lymph nodes – glands that help the body fight infection. There are two main types of lymphoma:

  • Hodgkin lymphoma
  • Non-Hodgkin lymphoma

Hodgkin lymphomas is a cancer of lymphocytes (a type of white blood cell) and contain particular cells – called Reed-Sternberg cells – that can be seen under a microscope. These cells are not present in non-Hodgkin lymphomas.

Hodgkin lymphoma is usually a disease of early adulthood. However, a second peak in cases occurs in patients over age 55.

The disease typically spreads from lymph node to lymph node. Lymphomas are staged differently than other cancers and take into account the number of lymph node regions involved, location above and below the diaphragm, and involvement of other organs.

Treatment

Chemotherapy and radiation therapy are both utilized for the treatment of Hodgkin lymphoma. Many patients with Hodgkin lymphoma can be successfully treated and cured, even those with advanced stage disease. 

Treatment can be more challenging for older patients. If the disease comes back after treatment, a stem cell transplant using the patient’s own stem cells may be the best option.

There are also newer therapies now being used for Hodgkin lymphoma, including antibody-drug conjugates (where a chemotherapy is linked to an antibody, a protein that specifically targets the lymphoma cells) and immunotherapies.

Survivorship

Because Hodgkin lymphoma is highly curable, patients will live for many years after successful treatment. Survivorship (living after cancer) is an essential part of the care provided, in order to minimize the long-term side effects and toxicities related to therapy.

Symptoms and Diagnosis

Lymphoma is a cancer of the lymph nodes, glands that help the body fight infection.

Symptoms

Symptoms of Hodgkin lymphoma include:

  • Swelling of lymph nodes (glands) in the neck, armpit, groin or under the chin 
  • Severe itching after drinking alcohol
  • Fever that doesn’t go away
  • Drenching night sweats
  • Unexplained weight loss 

If you have any of these symptoms, call your doctor.

Diagnosis

Diagnosis requires a biopsy of the affected area by a surgeon. This is a minor procedure that causes little discomfort or risk to the patient.

The tissue is examined under a microscope and tested to determine which type of cells are growing abnormally.

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