A middle aged woman having her lymph nodes on her neck checked by a doctor.

Key Insights for Understanding Lymphoma

What is Lymphoma?

Lymphoma is a type of cancer that originates in the lymphatic system, a vital component of the immune system which helps in fighting infections and diseases. The lymphatic system includes lymph nodes (small glands that filter lymph), the spleen, the thymus and the bone marrow. In this article we will explore the multiple signs and symptoms associated with lymphoma, as well as various causes and types. We will also look at a range of treatment options, including Adcetris which is used to treat certain types of lymphoma.

Put simply, lymphoma is a malignant growth of lymphocytes, a type of white blood cell that plays a crucial role in the immune system. When these cells become cancerous, they multiply uncontrollably, leading to enlarged lymph nodes and the potential infiltration of other organs.

Symptoms of Lymphoma

Painless Swelling of Lymph Nodes

One of the most common symptoms of lymphoma is painless swelling in one or more lymph nodes, usually in the neck, armpit or groin. The swelling is caused by lymphoma cells accumulating in the lymph nodes.

Persistent Fatigue

Fatigue associated with lymphoma is not relieved by sleep or rest. It is an unexplained extreme tiredness that can greatly affect daily activities and quality of life.

High Fever for More Than Two Days

A fever that cannot be explained by an infection and lasts for more than two days might be a sign of lymphoma. This fever is typically classified as a 'B-symptom', one of the systemic symptoms of lymphoma.

Extreme Night Sweats

Night sweats caused by lymphoma are drenching and can necessitate a change of clothes or bedding. They are also considered a 'B-symptom'.

Shortness of Breath

If lymphoma affects lymph nodes or organs inside the chest, it can cause pressure leading to shortness of breath or cough.

Unexplained Weight Loss

Losing a significant amount of weight without a change in diet or exercise routine can be a symptom of lymphoma.

Itchy Skin

Some people with lymphoma experience severe itching without an apparent rash, often caused by the release of certain chemicals from lymphoma cells.

Causes of Lymphoma

The exact cause of lymphoma is not clearly understood, but several factors may increase the risk of developing the disease.

  • Genetic predisposition: Some gene mutations can be inherited, increasing the risk of certain types of lymphoma.
  • Immune system deficiency: People with weakened immune systems, such as those with HIV/AIDS or organ transplant recipients on immunosuppressive drugs, are at higher risk.
  • Environmental factors: Exposure to certain chemicals and radiation has been linked with increased risk.
  • Infections: Some viral and bacterial infections, like the Epstein-Barr virus and Helicobacter pylori, can contribute to the development of lymphoma.

Types of Lymphoma

Lymphomas are primarily classified into two categories, each of which has several subtypes.

  • Hodgkin lymphoma: Hodgkin lymphoma (HL) is marked by the presence of Reed-Sternberg cells, giant cells derived from B lymphocytes. It is more common among young adults and those over 55. There are various subtypes of HL and prognosis and treatment can vary depending on the specific type and disease stage.
  • Non-Hodgkin lymphoma: Non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL) comprises a diverse group of cancers that arise from either B lymphocytes or T lymphocytes. NHL is more common than HL and can occur at any age. The course of the disease varies greatly; some types are slow-growing, while others are aggressive.

Treatment Options for Lymphoma

The treatment for lymphoma depends on the type, stage and the patient’s overall health and preferences. Here are some general therapy options.

  • Chemotherapy: Drugs are used to kill cancer cells or to stop their growth and division. This is a common treatment for lymphoma and can be administered orally or intravenously.
  • Radiation therapy: High-energy radiation is used to target and kill cancerous cells. This treatment is often localized to where the lymphoma is concentrated.
  • Targeted therapy: This treatment uses drugs or other substances that target specific cancer cells, usually by interfering with cancer cell growth or survival.
  • Immunotherapy: Designed to enhance the body's natural defenses to fight the cancer, immunotherapy works by using materials made either by the body or in a laboratory to improve, target or restore immune system function.
  • CAR T-cell therapy: A novel therapy where a patient’s T cells are genetically engineered to better target and kill cancer cells.
  • Bone marrow transplant: Also known as a stem cell transplant, this procedure replaces damaged or destroyed bone marrow with healthy bone marrow stem cells.
  • Adcetris: Adcetris (brentuximab vedotin) is a drug used in the treatment of Hodgkin lymphoma. It is employed in cases where cancer cells exhibit a protein known as CD30 on their surface (CD30-positive). Adcetris operates by focusing on the CD30 protein to disrupt the proliferation and dissemination of cancer cells throughout the body.

Final Notes

Lymphoma is a complex set of diseases with varied presentations and an understanding of its signs, symptoms, causes and types is crucial for early detection and treatment. Advances in medicine provide a multitude of treatment options and ongoing research continues to improve the outlook for those with lymphoma.

If you or someone you know is experiencing symptoms consistent with lymphoma, it is imperative to seek medical advice for proper diagnosis and to discuss appropriate treatment options.

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