What is Lymphoma?
Lymphoma is cancer of the lymphatic system (the lymph nodes system which is spread throughout your body).
The lymphatic system is part of your immune system.
About cancer: Cancer is a disease where abnormal cells in the body begin to grow, divide and reproduce in an uncontrollable way. These abnormal cells then invade and destroy healthy tissue, including organs.
With lymphoma, your body gradually loses its power to fight infection due to its (infection- fighting) white blood cells known as lymphocytes beginning to reproduce in an abnormal manner.
There are two types of lymphoma: Hodgkin’s Lymphoma and Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.
What is Hodgkin’s Lymphoma?
An aggressive form of cancer, Hodgkin’s Lymphoma mainly affects young people. It is characterised by an altered cell called the Reed-Sternberg cell. Hodgkin’s Lymphoma is generally successfully treated with cancer treatment because its symptoms become apparent quite early on.
What is Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma?
This form of Lymphoma is also an aggressive cancer (mainly diagnosed in elderly patients), but it is not at all characterised by the Reed-Sternberg cell.
The problem with Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma is that very often the person with the condition is oblivious to having the disease because they show no apparent symptoms until the disease is well into its advanced stages, reducing the chances of treatment being successful.
This article will focus upon Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.
Symptoms of Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma include:
Swelling of the lymph nodes in the neck, armpit and groin (these swellings are not necessarily painful – it depends upon the severity of your condition)
Headaches, chills and fever
Excessive sweating (particularly at night)
An irritating cough that can be persistent (particularly at night)
Itchy, irritated skin (these occurs in rare cases)
Tiredness and sometimes bouts of overwhelming fatigue
Higher susceptibility to infection
Despite worldwide medical research, the exact cause of Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma is as yet unknown. However, it is thought that some health conditions which weaken the immune system to the point that it functions very poorly can leave you at a higher risk of developing Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.
It is not possible to have a genetic predisposition to developing Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. That is, it is not a condition that your family may have a family history of and/or where a heightened risk of you one day being diagnosed with the disease is handed down.
Note: As well as lowered immunity, and the threat posed by certain viruses (e.g., Epstein-Barr virus), you may be at greater risk of developing Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma if you have had previous cancer treatment.
If you are suffering from the aforementioned symptoms (and particularly if your lymph nodes are swollen), arrange an appointment with your GP immediately.
After taking your medical history and asking your some questions about your symptoms, your GP will then take a blood test. Where the test proves inconclusive in establishing a confirmed diagnosis, you may then be referred to a specialist for further tests (such as a biopsy, X-ray, CT scan, MRI scan and/or other).
If a confirmed diagnosis of Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma is made, a range of treatments will be recommended to you and you will then be put into the care of a multidisciplinary care team at your local hospital.
Effect on your life
Being diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma can be a traumatic and emotionally shocking experience. Most people immediately see the blackest scenario.
Through consultations you will be encouraged to ask any questions, even if you fear they may seem trivial to someone else. Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma nurse specialists are attuned to responding to your questions and will understand your needs.
If possible, it is advisable to take someone who is emotionally strong with you to your consultations, to act as a support.
Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma will obviously have an enormous impact on your life. But the good news is that, for many people, there is life after Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.
Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma treatments include chemotherapy (a general term for treatments that use chemical agents/drugs that kill cancer cells), radiotherapy (high-energy radiation treatment – this is used only if the cancer is in your lymph nodes) and biological therapy (this stimulates the immune system).
Advice & Support
Helpline: 0808 808 5555
Macmillan Cancer Support
Tel: Helpline 0808 800 1234 (free phone)
Tel: 020 7739 2280 (standard rate)
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