Lymphoma is a type of cancer that begins in the lymphocytes, which are white blood cells found in the immune system. Lymphocytes are B and T cells that recognize infections and abnormal cells then destroy them.
The cells travel through a fluid called lymph throughout the lymphatic system that fights infections and other threats to the body.
When the lymph nodes swell and tenderize, bacterial organisms have collected in them indicating an infection. The cancer occurs when these cells begin to multiply in an uncontrolled state.
Lymphoma occurs when the B and T cells transform and start to grow and multiply in an uncontrollable way until they form a tumor. They will form in lymph tissues such as the spleen or tonsils. These abnormal lymphocytes can also metastasize or spread to other organs throughout the body. If it spreads to an area outside the lymphatic tissue, it is called extranodal disease. The danger of these tumors is that they take over tissue space, which deprives them of the nutrients and oxygen they need.
Lymphoma The Two Types
There are two types of lymphoma. Hodgkin lymphoma develops from a specific line of abnormal B cells. Non-Hodgkin lymphoma can develop from either B or T cells. Furthermore, there are 30 subtypes of non-Hodgkin lymphoma and each has its own genetic marker. While both types of lymphoma appear the same and even have some of the same symptoms, these different strands of lymphoma have microscopic differences. In fact, the different types of non-Hodgkin lymphoma have a complicated classification scheme based on these microscopic differences.
Lymphoma represents just more than 5% of all cancers not including simple basal cell and squamous cell skin cancers. However, it accounts for more than half of all blood cancers making it the most common type of blood cancer in the country. Furthermore, people are almost eight times more likely to be diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma than Hodgkin lymphoma with nearly 54,000 cases of non-Hodgkin reported and about 7,000 cases of Hodgkin diagnosed each year.
Lymph Nodes Swelling
Swelling in the groin, neck or underarm can be indicative of lymphoma. Swollen arms and legs can also be a symptom if lymph nodes are taking up too much space in the blood vessels, nerves and/or stomach. Sometimes people feel full and they can also feel numbness or tingling. There may also be other symptoms that are not specific to lymphoma but may result from the condition. These symptoms include:
- Night sweats
- Weight loss that cannot be explained.
Lymphoma is usually treated through biological therapy, chemotherapy or radiation therapy. Bone marrow transplants may also be used to treat the disease. However, treatment can be contingent upon a number of factors including the patient’s age and health status as well as the type of cancer and how much the cancer has spread. Treatment will also depend upon whether the patient has had previous cancer treatments and other personal characteristics that can affect the treatment. In some cases, lymphoma may even be curable.