Lymphoma

Lymphoma is a cancer that affects the lymphatic system, a part of the immune system. It occurs due to the abnormal growth of lymphocytes, a group of white blood cells. A clear understanding of the definition, symptoms, causes, diagnosis, and treatment helps us in taking proactive steps such as regular health checks for early identification of diseases such as lymphoma.

Definition

Lymphoma is a condition characterized by the uncontrolled proliferation of abnormal lymphocytes, primarily in the lymph nodes. It might also affect other organs and tissues of the lymphatic system

There are two main types of lymphoma:

  • Hodgkin lymphoma (HL)- It usually arises in the lymph nodes of the upper body, mainly in the neck and chest areas, including armpits.
  • Non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL)- It might arise in the lymph nodes of any part of the body.

Symptoms

The symptoms of lymphoma can vary depending on the type and stage of the disease. Some of the common symptoms are:

  • Swelling of lymph nodes in the neck, armpits, or groin; usually without any pain.
  • Prolonged fatigue or lethargy.
  • Unexplained fever and night sweats.
  • Unexpected weight loss.
  • Itchy skin without any visible rash.
  • Shortness of breath or chest pain (in cases of mediastinal lymph node involvement).

Causes and Risk factors

The exact causes of lymphoma are unclear, but certain risk factors have been identified. These include:

  • Genetic predisposition-
    Certain genetic abnormalities or mutations may increase the likelihood of developing lymphoma.
  • Weakened immune system-
    Individuals with compromised immune systems, such as those with HIV/AIDS or taking immunosuppressive drugs, have a higher risk.
  • Infections
    Certain viruse such as Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) or bacteria such as Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori), are known to be associated with the development of lymphoma.
  • Environmental factors
    Exposure to certain chemicals, pesticides, or radiation has been linked to an increased risk of lymphoma.

Individuals having one or more risk factors do not necessarily lead to the development of lymphoma but these risk factors increase the chances of developing lymphoma.

Diagnosis

Accurate diagnosis of lymphoma is critical for effective management and treatment. The diagnostic process typically involves:

  • Physical examination:
    A thorough clinical assessment by a healthcare professional to evaluate enlarged lymph nodes or other suspicious symptoms.
  • Medical history:
    Understanding the patient's medical history and any family history of lymphoma helps the doctors to better understand the potential risk factors, for developing lymphoma.
  • Imaging tests:
    Imaging tests like computed tomography (CT) scan, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), or positron emission tomography (PET) scan helps the doctors to visualize the affected lymph nodes or organs.
  • Biopsy:
    It is considered a standard test for the diagnosis of lymphoma. Biopsy procedure involves the removal of a sample of the affected lymphatic tissue and placing it for microscopic evaluation. This allows for identification of specific types of lymphoma, and aids in clear treatment planning.
    -Excisional biopsy: Extraction of an entire lymph node for examination.
    -Incisional biopsy: Extraction of a small portion of a lymph node or tissue for evaluation.
    -Fine-needle aspiration: Extraction of cellular material from a lymph node or tissue using a thin needle.
  • Blood tests:
    Laboratory tests, such as complete blood count (CBC) and blood chemistry panel, will also help in the assessment of overall health, detect abnormalities, and monitor the response to treatment.

Treatment

The treatment plan for lymphoma depends on several factors, such as the type, stage, and progression of the disease. Some of the commonly used treatment options include:

  • Chemotherapy:
    The use of high dose drugs to kill cancer cells or halt their growth. Chemotherapy can be given orally, or intravenously.
  • Radiation therapy:
    High-energy beams like X-rays are directed at specific areas of the body affected by lymphoma to destroy cancerous cells.
  • Immunotherapy:
    This approach strengthens the body's immune system to target and eliminate cancer cells
  • Targeted therapy:
    Drugs or substances that specifically target cancer cells, disrupting their growth and limiting damage to healthy cells
  • Stem cell transplant:
    In some cases, high-dose chemotherapy and radiation are followed by the infusion of healthy stem cells to restore the patient's bone marrow function.

Crucial role of Diagnosis

Lymphoma is a complex condition that requires a holistic approach to diagnosis and treatment. Diagnosis plays a crucial role in treating lymphoma, it helps the doctors to develop an effective treatment plan and allow their patients to lead a better life. If you experience any of the symptoms of lymphoma or has a family history of it, take the opinion of a doctor and get your diagnostic tests done at the AMPATH labs, to book an appointment, click here.