About Hodgkin’s Lymphoma

The lymphatic system comprises a network of vessels and tissues that form an integral part of the body’s immune system. Hodgkin’s lymphoma or Hodgkin’s disease is a cancer of the lymphatic cells characterised by their abnormal growth and multiplication. It can affect anyone but is usually more common in people between 20 and 40 years or above 50. Of the two cancers of the lymphatic system (Hodgkin and Non-Hodgkin’s), Hodgkin’s lymphoma is uncommon and affects less than 2,000 people per year in the UK. Hodgkin’s lymphoma is characterised by the presence of a type of lymphocyte under the microscope called the Reed Sternberg cell. The Reed Sternberg cell is not present in non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Hodgkin’s lymphoma is more common in men than women. Though this cancer can begin anywhere in the lymphatic system, it usually starts in the lymph nodes in the neck. The five-year survival rate or Hodgkin’s lymphoma life expectancy five years after diagnosis is 87%.

Symptoms

Some common symptoms of Hodgkin’s lymphoma are:

  • Painless lump or growth in the neck, armpits or groin
  • Persistent fatigue or tiredness
  • Night sweats
  • Fever with or without chills
  • Unexplained or unintended weight loss
  • Persistent cough 
  • Feeling breathless
  • Itching of the skin all over the body
  • Loss of appetite

 

Some patients may experience pain in the abdomen or indigestion if the lymph glands in the region are affected.

Diagnosis

The best way to detect Hodgkin’s lymphoma early is to report symptoms, the most common being a painless lump under the skin. If your doctor suspects Hodgkin’s lymphoma based on your symptoms, medical and family history, they may recommend the following diagnostic tests:

 

  • Blood tests

Blood tests provide information on any infections present in the blood and the levels of all blood cells.

 

  • CT Scan 

A CT scan can help detect any swollen lymph nodes in the body.

 

  • MRI 

An MRI provides a 3D image of the organs and tissues in the body and helps your doctor understand the spread of cancer.

 

  • PET scan

Usually performed with a CT scan, a PET scan gives information about the activity of cells, how to treat Hodgkin’s lymphoma in the particular case and if treatment is working.

 

  • Bone marrow sample

A type of biopsy during which a bone marrow sample is collected from the pelvic region under local anaesthesia to determine if cancer has spread to the bone marrow (seen in stage 4 Hodgkin’s lymphoma).

 

  • Lymph node biopsy

A lymph node biopsy is performed to confirm the diagnosis of Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

Treatment

There are four types of Hodgkin’s lymphoma, and each grows and spreads differently. Hodgkin’s lymphoma treatment options, therefore, depend upon its type, symptoms, location, stage and spread. The primary Hodgkin’s lymphoma treatment options include– chemotherapy and radiation therapy or a combination of both. The type of drugs used in chemotherapy also depends upon the cancer stage, but even advanced-stage Hodgkin’s lymphomas are treatable and have a good prognosis.

Surgery is usually not a treatment option for this cancer. Immunotherapy and stem cell transplants may be recommended. It is common to hear about chemotherapy and Hodgkin’s lymphoma as it is the mainstay for treating this cancer. Speak to your doctor about the possible side effects of chemotherapy.

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