Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma is a type of cancer that originates in the white blood cells or lymphocytes that form a part of the immune system. It usually starts in the lymph nodes, but it can affect other parts as well. The major sites of lymph tissues are lymph nodes, spleen, bone marrow, thymus, adenoids, tonsils & digestive tract.
Does Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma Run In Families?
Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma is commonly known to affect older people in the age group of more than 50-60 years. However, it can also affect younger people. It is also more common in men than women. Having a first degree relative (parent, child or sibling) puts you at higher risk of beginning non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma; however it is not an inherited condition. No study has proven any genetic factors involved in transmission of lymphoma genes in the families. It is possible that siblings are exposed to similar conditions & illnesses that make them prone to developing lymphomas. Only 5% of lymphoma cases show any link to another family member, while non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma does not show any family link. Other risk factors for development of lymphoma are infection with Epstein-Barr virus, human T-cell lymphoma virus & human immunodeficiency virus. Chemotherapy, radiation & exposure to certain chemicals & solvents all lead to development of lymphomas.
The signs of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma include swollen lymph nodes in the groin, armpits, or neck which are painless, pain in abdomen or abdominal inflammation, pain in chest, cough & difficulty in breathing, fever, anemia, night sweats, severe fatigue, itchy skin & unexplained weight loss.
Diagnosis Of Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma
The doctor will perform a complete physical & will look for any signs indicating non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, especially the presence of swollen lymph nodes in the underarms, groin & neck. Also abdominal examination is done to rule out swelling on the liver or spleen. Most of the times swollen lymph nodes are symptoms of infection but the cause or source of infection should be identified.
A complete medical history is very important to eliminate out other conditions. Blood tests (complete blood count) are performed where the white blood cells count can be known. It is also important to get an additional test done to check the level of lactate dehydrogenase, which is found to be more in non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Other routine tests may also be performed to eliminate out other causes of infection.
Imaging procedures such as CT scan or X-ray of chest or & neck is also helpful in detecting the tumors. PET scan is also being used widely these days to detect non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. A biopsy of the lymph nodes might be prescribed to establish a diagnosis.
Treatment Of Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma
Before the non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma treatment begins it is necessary to know how far the lymphoma has progressed. It can be classified into four stages according to its spread & involvement of other organs. It can also cause symptoms & sometimes may be present without symptoms of fever, night sweats & itching.
An oncologist is usually the one to evaluate the non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma patient’s condition & then start treatment. The treatment plan depends upon the type & stage of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, its progression & the age of the patient.
A slow growing non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma without symptoms does not require treat right away. A close watch on the patient for development of symptoms & follow up is necessary. If the symptoms show up then therapy usually consists of chemotherapy & biological therapy. Stage 1 & 2 are managed by radiation therapy. If the non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma is aggressive then a combination of chemotherapy, biological therapy (monoclonal antibodies, rituximab, cyclophosphamide, doxorubicin hydrochloride, vincristine sulfate) & radiation therapy is required. Stem cell transplantation is also done when the non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma returns after treatment. In this the healthy stem cells are taken from a donor & injected into the patient to enhance the immune system of the patient. Radio-immunotherapy includes the use of ibritumomab (zevalin) & tositumomab (bexxar) that are made of monoclonal antibodies to treat lymphomas.
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