About Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma

Our body’s lymphatic system comprises lymph nodes, lymphatic vessels, bone marrow, spleen, thymus, digestive tract and glands like the tonsils. Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma is one of the cancers of the lymphatic system that affects lymphocytes (a type of white blood cell or WBC). This cancer can start anywhere in the lymphatic system. While it is more common in adults, it can occur in children. Though Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma can occur at any age, the risk of developing it increases with age. It also shows a slight preference for women. Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma treatment options depend upon the type of lymphoma, its stage and its spread. The exact cause of this lymphoma is unknown. The five-year survival rate or non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma life expectancy five years after diagnosis is around 64%.

Symptoms

The early stages of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma cause little or no symptoms. When they occur, common symptoms of this cancer depend upon its location and may include:

  • Painless swellings in the armpit, groin or neck
  • Enlarged tonsils
  • A lump in the abdomen
  • Breathless if the lymphoma is detected in the chest
  • Night sweats
  • Frequent bouts of fever
  • Unexplained or unintended weight loss
  • Unexplained itching
  • Red patches on the skin

If the lymphoma spreads to the brain, it may cause symptoms like:

  • Headaches
  • Confusion
  • Difficulty in thinking
  • Personality changes
  • Seizures

The symptoms mentioned above can occur in other conditions as well. So, your doctor may recommend a few tests to confirm their diagnosis.

Diagnosis

If your doctor suspects non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, they will ask you for a detailed medical and family history and perform a thorough clinical evaluation of any growth or lump. They may prescribe the following tests to visualise the affected area and confirm their diagnosis:

  • Routine blood tests: To evaluate your overall health and how well your other organs like the kidneys and liver function.
  • Imaging tests:
  • X-ray: Helps your doctor determine if you have non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
  • CT scan: A CT scan helps determine if any lymph nodes are affected by cancer.
  • MRI: Helps assess if cancer has spread to other parts of the body.
  • PET Scan: Enables staging of cancer and list out non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma treatment options for you.
  • Biopsy: A lymph node biopsy may be performed to assess why a lymph node is swollen. If the biopsy confirms non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a bone marrow biopsy and a lumbar puncture may be done to evaluate if cancer has spread to the bone and the spinal cord.

 

Knowing the stage and spread helps your doctor and healthcare team determine how to treat non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

Treatment

Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma treatment options depend upon the following factors:

  • Type and grade of cancer
  • Stage
  • Spread
  • Overall health 
  • Age

The standard treatment options for non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma are–  chemotherapy,  targeted cancer drugs, and radiation therapy. In some cases, surgery and stem cell transplants may be performed. Though a lot is usually said about the side effects of chemotherapy and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, it is usually the first line of treatment for this cancer.

There are multiple types of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, and they can be broadly grouped under two types – high-grade (aggressive) and low-grade (indolent). Most cancer cases are treatable, even the advanced stages (stage 3 and stage 4 non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma).

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