Lymphoma is a cancer of the lymphocytes that are part of the immune system. It is the most common form of blood cancer and tumors most often occur in the lymph nodes.
They can also develop in other areas such as the bones, bowels, skin, or brain. There are many different types of lymphoma and over the years various classification systems have been used to diagnose lymphocytes.
Currently the most widely used system was developed by the World Health Organization and updated as recently as 2008. This classification system is based on the size and shape of the cells as well as biopsy results. It breaks lymphoma down into three main types – B cell, T cell and natural killer cell. Lymphoma is also part of a broad type of diseases known as hematological neoplasms.
Hodgkin’s lymphoma (formerly called Hodgkin’s disease) is named after Thomas Hodgkin who first identified lymphoma in 1832. Lymphoma types are usually also classified as Hodgkin’s lymphoma or non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
Lymphoma makes up approximately 5% of all cancers and about 55% of all blood cancers. It most often presents as a solid tumor that grows large enough for someone to see and feel.
Signs & Symptoms
The symptoms of lymphoma can be quite vague so it is important to have a biopsy to confirm. Symptoms include loss of appetite and weight, breathlessness, unexplained fever, fatigue, and swollen lymph nodes.
Diagnosis of lymphoma is done by a physical exam, scans and a biopsy. It is very important that the lymphoma is diagnosed correctly so that the best treatment plan can be implemented. Lymphomas run the gamut from slow growing and not needing any treatment, to very aggressive and needing immediate and complete treatment.
As mentioned, treatment for lymphoma depends on the stage of the cancer. In low-grade lymphoma that do not have any symptoms doctors may take a “watch and wait” approach.
If the lymphoma is middle grade and causing symptoms many times they can manage the symptoms with less side effects than actually treating the cancer. In more aggressive cases a mix of chemotherapy, radiation and bone marrow transplant may be necessary.
The prognosis for those with lymphoma varies greatly based on the person’s age, overall health and the stage of the cancer. The average five-year survival rate for those with lymphoma ranges about 50% – 75%. Unfortunately, some patients do not respond well to treatment and these patients have a very poor prognosis.