Hodgkin’s lymphoma, also known as Hodgkin’s disease, is a cancer of the immune system. It is characterized by the presence of the Reed-Sternberg cell in the lymph nodes (organs containing white blood cells that filter toxins and other foreign particles), spleen, liver, and/or bone marrow.
Anomalous DNA mutations cause the Reed-Sternberg cell to grow abnormally and divide without order, resulting in a weakened immune system. In late-stage Hodgkin’s disease, the Reed-Sternberg cell may metastasize (spread) to the lungs or liver.
Hodgkin’s lymphoma is named after the British physician Thomas Hodgkin. He first described this disease’s distinguishable characteristics in 1832.
The cause of Hodgkin’s lymphoma remains elusive, but the following factors may influence the disease’s development:
- Family History: If you have a parent or sibling with Hodgkin’s disease, you are more likely to develop the disease yourself. This familial association may be the result of genetic anomalies and/or similar exposure to similar environments.
- Age: Hodgkin’s disease typically affects people between the ages of 15 and 40, and people over the age of 55.
- Gender: Males are more likely to develop Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
- Epstein-Barr Infection: This virus, also referred to as EBV, is one of the most common human viruses. It is a member of the herpesvirus family, which are viruses that alter a cell’s DNA structure. Herpesviruses may lead to other illnesses and/or cause flu-like symptoms, such as fever, sore throat, and swollen glands.
- Weakened Immune System: Organ transplants, HIV/AIDS, and certain medications may compromise your immune systems ability to fight infection. Studies also indicate that a compromised immune system may lead to Hodgkin’s disease development.
Signs and Symptoms
Hodgkin’s lymphoma produces symptoms that are similar to those produced by the flu or a common cold. In late-stage Hodgkin’s disease, tumors may develop. Common signs and symptoms may include:
- Fever and Chills
- Night Sweats
- Fatigue: Persistent feelings of tiredness or exhaustion
- Swelling of Lymph Nodes: Commonly occurs in the neck, armpits, and/or groin
- Weight Loss: Losing up to 10% of your body weight may indicate Hodgkin’s disease.
- Loss of Appetite
If symptoms indicate Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a doctor will recommend a series of tests and examinations to confirm the presence of this disease:
- Personal Family Medical History Exam: A thorough analysis of you and your family’s medical history will reveal your Hodgkin’s disease risk.
- Physical Exam: A basic physical exam will a allow physician to detect any enlarged lymph nodes.
- Biopsy: In this procedure, an incision is made through which an entire lymph node is removed. The lymph node is then sent to a laboratory for microscopic evaluation. In some cases, tissues can be extracted with a simple needle and syringe.
- Imaging Tests: Imaging tests such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), computed tomography (CT scan), x-ray, ultrasound, and positron emission tomography (PET scan) are used to observe the inner workings of the human body. These tests are used uncover the presence of tumors or any anomalous internal body structures.
The goal of Hodgkin lymphoma treatment is to kill as many malignant (cancer) cells as possible. Treating this disease, as with all cancers, depends on the disease’s stage, time of diagnosis, patient age, and overall patient health.
Radiotherapy, or radiation therapy, is the use of ionizing radiation beams to kill malignant cells. This treatment option is primarily reserved for low-stage cancer patients with localized malignancies. Typically, radiation therapy is used in conjunction with chemotherapy. In late-stage patients, the use of radiation in conjunction with other treatments may create a more complete and curative treatment strategy.
Chemotherapy is the use of chemical agents (drugs) to kill malignant cells. This treatment option appropriately addresses cancers that have metastasized throughout the body. The chemicals used in chemotherapy to kill cancer cells can also kill healthy cells. This is why chemotherapy is associated with such a vast array of negative side effects. Despite these potentially severe effects, chemo is the treatment of choice for many Hodgkin’s lymphoma patients.
BONE MARROW TRANSPLANT
Chemotherapy destroys bone marrow cells. As a result, your own healthy bone marrow or peripheral blood stem cells are collected prior to chemo treatment. These cells are frozen to be protected from the effects of chemotherapy. Following chemotherapy, the bone marrow or peripheral blood cells are injected back into your body.
A patient’s outlook depends on the time of diagnosis, as well as their age and overall health. Stage I and II Hodgkin’s lymphoma patients face a 95% five-year survival rate. Late-state patients face a 60 to 70% five-year survival rate.
Most Hodgkin’s lymphoma patients have no known risk factors. As a result, it can be very difficult to prevent this disease. Taking steps to avoid to contraction of HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted viruses may help reduce your lymphoma risk. This may include the practice of safe sex, abstinence, and/or the use of clean needles for the administration of medications and controlled substances.
Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research (MFMER). 1998-2009. Retrieved April, 17, 2009 from <http://www.mayoclinic.com>.
National Center for Infectious Diseases. 2009. Retrieved on April 17, 2009 from <http://www.cdc.gov/ncidod/diseases/ebv.htm>.
National Institute of Health U.S. National Library of Medicine. 2009. Retrieved on April 17, 2009 from <http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/hodgkinsdisease.html#cat5>.
National cancer Institute. 2009. Retrieved on April 17, 2009 from <http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/types/hodgkinslymphoma/>.