This is the second installment in a two-part post spotlighting Leukemia and Lymphoma Awareness Month. This post focuses on the symptoms, risk factors and prevalence of lymphoma, a second major type of blood cancer.
Lymphoma is the name for a group of blood cancers that develop in the lymphatic system and affect a subset of white blood cells called lymphocytes. The two main types are Hodgkin lymphoma (formerly called Hodgkin’s Disease) and Non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL). Currently, about 620,000 people are living with lymphoma or are in remission. NHL is far more common, with Hodgkin lymphoma accounting for about 11.5 % of new cases.
The primary differentiators between Hodgkin and Non-Hodgkin lymphoma is the presence of a particular type of abnormal cell called the Reed-Sternberg cell. These are large, cancerous cells found in Hodgkin lymphoma tissues, named for the scientists who first identified them. Hodgkin lymphoma is one of the most curable forms of cancer.
NHL represents a diverse group of diseases distinguished by the characteristics of the cancer cells associated with each disease type. Most people with NHL have a B-cell type of NHL (about 85 percent). The others have a T-cell type or an NK-cell type of lymphoma. Some patients with fast-growing NHL can be cured. For patients with slow-growing NHL, treatment may keep the disease in check for many years.
Signs and symptoms of both major types of lymphoma are similar and if lymphoma is suspected, a series of tests will determine the specific type and treatment options. Symptoms may include: swollen lymph nodes in your neck, armpit or groin, abdominal pain or swelling, chest pain, coughing or trouble breathing, fatigue, fever, night sweats, and weight loss.
Depending on the type of lymphoma, treatment options include: chemotherapy, biological therapy to induce the immune system fight cancer, radiation therapy, stem cell transplant and medications that deliver radiation directly to the cancer cells.
It is not clear what causes Hodgkin or Non-Hodgkin lymphoma but risk factors for both are somewhat similar. Both are more likely in those with a weakened immune system, such as from HIV/AIDS or from having an organ transplant requiring immune suppressing drugs. Previous viral or bacterial infections such as the Epstein-Barr or Hepatitis C virus or H. Pylori bacteria are associated with an increased risk of lymphoma.
Non-Hodgkin lymphoma can occur at any age but is most common in people in their 60s or older. Hodgkin lymphoma is usually diagnosed in people between the ages of 15 and 35 as well as older adults.
The Good News
Since the 1960s, new treatments have significantly improved outcomes. The five-year survival rate for people with Hodgkin lymphoma has greatly increased to almost 88 percent and NHL is about 69%. NHL is the eighth most common cause of cancer death in males and the sixth most common cause of cancer death in females.
Leukemia & Lymphoma Society