About Lymphoma

An essential part of human immune function is regulated by a network of cells and glands known as the lymphatic system, which is made up of lymph nodes, the thymus gland, bone marrow, and the spleen. Lymphoma is referred to as blood cancer because it develops as a result of abnormalities in a white blood cell type known as a lymphocyte. There are two types of white blood cells, B-cells and T-cells. All blood cells are produced in the bone marrow.

Like sarcomas, which are cancers that affect the body’s connective tissue (muscles, fat, cartilage, bone marrow, and bone), there are many different types of lymphoma. Lymphoma can also spread (metastasize) to other parts of the body.

What Are the Different Types of Lymphoma?

The two main categories of lymphoma are Hodgkin’s and Non-Hodgkin’s. Like sarcomas, some types are more common in children and adolescents, and some are typically found in middle aged and older adults. The symptoms and treatment options for each condition will vary from patient to patient, depending on the type of lymphoma they are diagnosed with, the severity of the diagnosis, and the patient’s overall health and genetic profile.

Signs, Symptoms, & Risk Factors for Lymphoma

Hodgkin’s Disease/Hodgkin’s Lymphoma

Less common than non-Hodgkin’s, this type of cancer results from abnormal growth of lymphatic cells, which can spread to other parts of the body and hinder the body’s ability to adequately fight infections. Hodgkin’s disease is most common in adolescents and young adults between the ages of 15 – 30, and also among adults over the age of 55. This form of cancer can be treated successfully, and many patients go on to make a full recovery with adequate diagnosis and treatment.

The most common symptoms of Hodgkin’s disease are:

    • Unexplained, drastic weight loss and excessive fatigue
      Swelling in lymph nodes in the armpit, neck, or groin
    • Night sweats
    • Fever
    • Chills
    • Appetite loss
    • Sensitivity and pain in lymph nodes after alcohol consumption

A direct cause for Hodgkin’s is not clear, but there are certain factors that can increase the risk:

    • Heredity
    • Gender (more common in men)
    • Previous infection with Epstein-Barr virus (mononucleosis)
    • Weakened immune system due to HIV infection or immune suppressing drugs for organ transplant recipients

Treatment for this type of lymphatic cancer will vary according to which type of white blood cell is affected. Some of the most common subtypes include:

    • Nodular sclerosis Hodgkin’s
    • Mixed cellularity Hodgkin’s
    • Lymphocyte-depleted Hodgkin’s
    • Lymphocyte-rich classical Hodgkin’s
    • Lymphocyte-predominant Hodgkin’s

Non-Hodgkin’s Disease

Like Hodgkin’s, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma originates in the lymphatic system and consists of several subtypes, depending on the particular white blood cell that is affected. This is the more common form of the two types of lymphoma. The most common subtypes are:

    • Diffuse large B-cell
    • Follicular lymphoma

Some of the symptoms are similar with both categories of lymphoma.

The most common symptoms for non-Hodgkin’s are:

    • Weight loss
    • Fatigue
    • Swollen lymph nodes
    • Night sweats
    • Pain and swelling in the abdomen
    • Fever
    • Chest pain, coughing, breathing problems

Non-Hodgkin’s is caused by a proliferation of lymphocytes, and can occur in either B or T cells, which will determine how the cancer is treated.

In addition to the lymph nodes, cancerous lymphocytes can also affect:

    • Lymphatic vessels
    • Adenoids
    • Tonsils
    • Bone marrow
    • Spleen
    • Thymus

Like most forms of cancer, it can also metastasize to organs outside of the lymphatic system.

The most common risk factors for this type of lymphoma include:

    • Age – Most common over the age of 60, although it can affect people of all ages
    • Immunosuppressive therapy for organ transplant recipients
    • Immune compromising viruses and bacteria – HIV, Epstein – Barr, Helicobacter pylori
    • Industrial chemicals and pesticides like weed killer are suspected to potentially increase the risk for some people

Because there are lymph nodes spread out and located throughout the body, lymphatic cancer can technically develop anywhere. One type of lymphoma other than Hodgkin’s and non-Hodgkin’s is skin lymphoma (cutaneous). Like any form of cancer, malignancies that develop in lymphocytes and lymph nodes are known as primary lymphoma, and when they spread to other parts of the body, such as the liver or kidneys, it is known as metastatic because the cancer did not originate in those organs.

Alternatively, because lymph fluid runs throughout the body, other forms of primary cancer that originate in organs like the breast or lungs can spread to the lymph nodes, but they are not categorized as lymphomas because they did not originate in a white blood cell.