It is important you tell your doctor if you have any signs or symptoms of lymphoma, so he or she may determine their cause and plan treatment, if necessary.
What is Lymphoma?
The term “lymphoma” describes a group of cancers of the lymphatic system. The lymphatic system is responsible for the resorption of fluids into the circulation and immune defense against foreign invaders, such as bacteria, which might otherwise cause infection. Since the lymphatic system is a network of nodes and vessels that extends throughout the body, a lymphoma may develop nearly anywhere in the body.
There are two main types of lymphoma—Hodgkin lymphoma (HL) and non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL). HL and NHL are also known as Hodgkin disease and non-Hodgkin disease, respectively. A physician can distinguish between these types by looking for cells of a specific type, known as Reed-Sternberg cells, among other cells that make up cancer. Reed-Sternberg cells are present in HL but are absent in NHL.
Signs and Symptoms of Lymphoma
The following may be indicative of lymphoma but may also be indicative of other illnesses:
- Swollen lymph nodes, often in the neck, underarm, and/or groin
- Shortness of breath
- Loss of appetite
- Night sweats
- Stomach pain
- Weight loss
It is important you tell your doctor if you have any of these signs and symptoms, so he or she may determine their cause and plan treatment, if necessary.
How Is Lymphoma Detected?
Our specialists collect information regarding medical history, surgical history, social history, and family history; conduct laboratory testing, and review radiological studies to approach patient care in the most comprehensive and personalized manner.
If lymphoma is suspected, doctors often begin with a physical examination of a patient’s lymph nodes to check for swelling. The physician may then choose to resect (remove) all or a part of an enlarged lymph node for laboratory analysis. If lymphoma is found, the doctor may choose to perform a bone marrow biopsy to determine if the lymphoma has spread to the bone marrow. Alternatively, a physician may suspect a patient’s lymph nodes to be swollen due to a simple infection. In this case, he or she may prescribe antibiotics to rule out this possibility if swelling of the lymph node or nodes resolves.
If your doctor suspects that another part of your body may be involved by a lymphoma, he or she may order imaging to reach a diagnosis, document the staging of the disease, and/or plan treatment, if necessary. Imaging might include a CT scan, PET scan, or PET-CT scan. A CT (computed tomography) scan uses X-rays to generate a three-dimensional picture of the body whereas a PET (positron emission tomography) scan uses a small amount of radioactive tracer to locate any cancer cells by how readily they take up the radiotracer. A PET-CT combines the features of a CT scan with those of a PET scan.
How Is Lymphoma Treated?
Treatment of lymphoma, depending on the stage and type, may include chemotherapy, immunotherapy, stem cell transplant, radiation therapy, and/or surgery. These treatments may be used individually or in combination based on your doctor’s recommendations. It’s important to discuss all of your treatment options with your doctor to help make the decision that best fits your needs. Some important factors to consider when deciding on a lymphoma treatment plan include
- Your age, health, and lifestyle.
- The stage of your cancer.
- Any other serious health conditions you have.
- Your feelings about the need to treat cancer right away.
- Your doctor’s opinion about if you need to treat cancer right away.
- The likelihood that treatment will help fight or cure your cancer.
- Possible side effects of each treatment method.
You may feel the need to make a quick decision, but it is very important to ask questions if there is anything about which you’re not entirely sure. It is very important for you and your doctor to communicate and work together to weigh the benefits of each treatment option against the possible adverse effects in order to ultimately determine which treatment option is best for you.