Overview – What is it?
Lymphoma is a type of cancer that affects the lymphatic system and the white blood cells that provide immunity to the body also known as lymphocytes. The two types of lymphoma cancer are Hodgkin and Non-Hodgkin lymphoma. The exact cause of this cancer is unknown but factors such as age and having a condition that weakens the immune system are some of the risk factors for lymphoma cancer.
The symptoms for this condition include persistent fatigue, fever and painless swelling of lymph nodes. It can be diagnosed through physical exam, blood test and imaging tests. Lymphoma cancer can be treated through chemotherapy and bone marrow transplant, among other treatment options. The prevention of this cancer can be achieved through the reduction of risk factors, for instance, by preventing yourself against infections like HIV and exposure to environmental poisons.
Causes – What causes it?
Lymphoma cancer occurs when there is rapid and uncontrollable growth of malignant or cancerous cells in the lymphatic tissue. It mostly spreads to the bone marrow, liver and lungs. The two main types of this cancer are:
- Hodgkin lymphoma: It is most common in young adults between 20-40 years and older adults from 55 years and above.
- Non-Hodgkin lymphoma: It is the most common type of lymphoma and its risk increases with age.
The exact cause of lymphoma cancer is unknown, however, the risk factors for this cancer are:
- Immunodeficiency: This refers to having a weak immune system due to conditions such as HIV/AIDs. Your immunity can also be weakened by medicines taken after an organ transplant.
- Chemicals: Being exposed to certain chemicals such as those used in agriculture can increase your risk of getting lymphoma cancer.
- Autoimmune diseases: These are diseases that involve the body’s immune system attacking the body’s cells. Such diseases include Lupus, Rheumatoid arthritis and Celiac disease.
- Radiation: Exposure to radiation, for instance during cancer treatment, can increase lymphoma cancer risk.
- Infections: Certain bacterial or viral infections like Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) increase the risk of developing lymphoma cancer as they transform lymphocytes.
- Family history: Having a close family member who has or has had lymphoma cancer increases your risk for the condition as well.
- Age: People who are between 20-40 years and 55 years and above are at a higher risk of developing lymphoma cancer.
- Gender: Depending on the subtypes of lymphoma cancer, some are more common in men while others are more common in women.
- Body weight: Being overweight or obese can also increase your risk for lymphoma cancer.
- Diet: Eating unhealthy foods is also linked to lymphoma cancer.
Symptoms – What do you feel?
Some of the symptoms of lymphoma cancer are:
- Having a painless swelling of the lymph nodes in the armpits, neck and groin
- Persistent fatigue
- Night sweats
- Unexplained weight loss
Some of these symptoms may be as a result of other health conditions. Therefore, if you experience such symptoms, see a doctor for proper diagnosis.
Diagnosis – How do you diagnose it?
The first step in diagnosing lymphoma cancer is to discuss with your doctor your symptoms, your medical history and whether anyone in your family has suffered from this type of cancer. The doctor will also carry out a physical exam to check for any symptoms of this cancer such as swelling of the abdomen, chin, neck, or armpits. After this, tests can be done to determine which condition you have.
Tests for lymphoma cancer include:
- Blood tests: These are used to check for the number of certain cells, infections and levels of certain substances which can indicate the presence of lymphoma cancer.
- Imaging tests: To give detailed images of internal organs which can show any abnormalities using MRI (magnetic resonance imaging), CT (computerised tomography) or PET (positron emission tomography) scans.
- Biopsy: This test involves removing a sample of lymph tissue or an entire lymph node and examining it under a microscope to determine whether it has any cancerous cells.
- Bone marrow aspiration or biopsy: In this test, tissue sample is taken from your bone marrow to look for lymphoma cells.
- Molecular test: To look for changes in proteins, genes and other substances in cancer cells that can help determine which type of lymphoma you have.
- Chest x-ray: It is done to check for any abnormalities in the chest by taking images of the inside of the chest.
Treatment – How do you treat it?
The treatment for lymphoma depends on which type of lymphoma one has and the stage it has reached. The treatment options include:
- Surgery: This is done to remove the affected part, such as the spleen, and other parts that the cancer may have spread to.
- Chemotherapy: This option uses a combination of anti-cancer drugs to kill the cancer cells in the body.
- Immunotherapy: This treatment option is used to boost the body’s immune system so as to make it aware of the presence of cancer cells in the body and enable it to fight the cancer.
- Radiation therapy: Uses high energy beams to destroy cancer cells and stop them from spreading further.
- Targeted therapy: In this treatment, medication is used to curb the growth of cancer cells.
- Bone marrow transplant: It involves restoring damaged bone marrow with healthy bone marrow which can be harvested from a donor or from your own body.
Prevention – How do you prevent it?
Since there is no specific cause for lymphoma cancer, there is no exact way to prevent it. However, it can be prevented through reducing its risk factors by:
- Maintaining a healthy diet rich in vegetables and fruits and less processed foods
- Maintaining a healthy weight
- Exercising regularly
- Avoiding exposure to harmful chemicals
- Avoiding exposure to radiation
- Protecting yourself from getting a condition that can lead to a weakened immune system such as HIV/AIDs.