Lymphomas: What You Need to Know About Lymph Node Cancer

It is jarring to come in for a routine checkup for a stomach ache, only to be told that the persisting pain in your stomach is actually a symptom of lymphoma, or a form of cancer that affects the immune system.

If you or a loved one has recently been diagnosed with the disease, here’s something to give you a brief respite: The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society has dubbed Hodgkin’s lymphoma as one of the most curable forms of cancer.  Even its mortality rate is low in comparison with other kinds of cancer, as it takes the lives of 20,170 Americans annually, with the numbers continuing to decline every year. Medical News Today states that two-thirds of those who are diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma (NHL) will survive for five years, while 85% of patients suffering from Hodgkin’s lymphoma are expected to make the five-year survival rate.

So if you or a loved one has been diagnosed with lymphoma, then have strength in the fact that this is a cancer that you can survive.

That being said, here are other things you should know about lymphomas.

The Basics

Lymphoma affects immune cells called lymphocytes, which according to the US National Library of Medicine are “type of white blood cell that is part of the immune system. There are two main types of lymphocytes: B cells and T cells. The B cells produce antibodies that are used to attack invading bacteria, viruses, and toxins. The T cells destroy the body’s own cells that have themselves been taken over by viruses or become cancerous.” Therefore, infected lymphocytes affect the body’s immune system and the lymphatic system.

The US National Cancer Institute states that there are 3 cases of Hodgkin’s lymphoma for every 100,000 Americans, while there are 20 cases of NHL for every 100,000 Americans. Lymphoma represents about 5 percent of newly diagnosed cancers in the country. Overall, there are 71,000 new cases of NHL and 9,200 new cases of Hodgkin lymphoma in 2014 alone.

There are two kinds of lymphoma. Hodgkin’s lymphoma is diagnosed when the presence of Reed-Sternberg cell is seen under the microscope. Meanwhile, NHL is what the cancer is called in the absence of the aforementioned cell.

The Causes

As with most cancers, the exact cause of lymphoma is unknown, although there are several factors that put a person at risk of developing the condition.

Majority of those who get NHL are the elderly, from the ages of 60 and above. It is present both in men and women. Meanwhile, ethnicity seems to have a profound effect to those who get it. Asian-Americans and African-Americans are less likely to get the condition than Caucasians.

Many of those who get NHL are those who have had compromised immune systems at one point in their lives, such as those who have HIV infection or an organ transplantation. Those who have had autoimmune diseases are also at higher risk of getting NHL. Meanwhile, the Helicobacter Infection and Epstein Barr Virus are both notorious for increase the risk of lymphomas.

As for those who have Hodgkin’s lymphoma, majority of them are afflicted by the Epstein-Barr virus. While NHL primarily targets those above the age of 60, this kind of lymphoma targets those who are in their 20s, as well as those over the age of 55; it is also more common in men.

Hodgkin’s lymphoma has a high genetic predisposition. If a sibling has it, for example, then there is a higher risk of contracting it.  Unlike most conditions, it seems that affluence is a risk factor to lymphoma as people who are from higher socioeconomic status are at more risk of it than those who are from developing countries.

The Symptoms

Since lymphoma targets the lymphatic system and the immune system, oftentimes the symptoms of it are mistaken for simple illnesses, such as the flu or the common cold. Because of this, diagnosis of lymphoma is often delayed, or it is often misdiagnosed.

A telltale sign that you are dealing with lymphoma is when the symptoms persist long after the viral infection is gone. For example, if you’ve had the common cold, and your lymph nodes are still swollen after the viral infection has been gone, then you should go to the doctor.

The symptoms are often seen in the swelling of lymph nodes in the neck or armpits, as well as those nodes that are located in the groin and abdomen. The infected lymph glands can therefore enlarge and press on bones, organs, and other parts of the body that can cause pain. However, the pain is not debilitating but would be more irritating, such as a case of a backache.

Aside from the obvious swelling of lymph nodes, other symptoms include swelling in the extremities, cramping and bloating of the abdomen, weight loss, persistent coughing, loss of appetite, fatigue, chills, night sweats, and fever, among others. Again, these symptoms are characteristic of less serious illnesses and are therefore disregarded as a viral condition until a physician correctly pinpoints lymphoma.

As lymphoma originates in the lymph nodes, the cancer can spread to other parts of the body. When this happens and the cancerous cells significantly affect the functioning of other tissues and organs, then the body’s ability to fight off the cancer is significantly reduced.

The Bottom Line

Despite this grim pronouncement, the statistics above can attest that as long as it is detected early, lymphoma is among the most curable forms of cancer. Therefore, you do not have to lose hope as you can win this battle.

As with most diseases and conditions, the most effective way to keep them at bay is to live a healthy lifestyle. This involves eating a healthy and balanced diet, exercising properly and regularly, and avoiding excessive alcohol intake and cigarette smoking. Regular checkups with physicians are also necessary to ensure that you are healthy.

Since the symptoms of lymphoma are often symptoms of more common conditions and illnesses, it is often misdiagnosed as something else. Therefore, be wary of your symptoms and be vigilant about your health. If you think something is wrong, then don’t hesitate to ask your doctor.