Lymphoma is a cancer of the lymphatic system tissues including the lymph nodes, lymph vessels and bone marrow. Unlike other cancers that can spread to the lymphatic system, lymphoma originates there. Lymphoma can affect the tonsils, thymus, spleen or adenoids and cause painless swelling of these glands. There are two recognized types of lymphoma: Hodgkin’s lymphoma and non-Hodgkin lymphoma. These two types are distinguished by the cancerous cells involved. Chemotherapy and radiation are the most commonly used treatments, but aggressive or recurring forms of lymphoma are frequently treated with stem cell transplants.



Lymphoma can cause diffuse symptoms that are common to bacterial infections of the lymph nodes. Those affected may notice a painless swelling of lymph nodes at one site or throughout the body. If lymph nodes in the chest swell, symptoms including chest pain, unexplained coughing and shortness of breath can appear. Fever, fatigue, weakness, sweating, weight loss and poor appetite are common. The abdomen may also feel swollen, bloated or painful.



When diagnosing lymphoma, doctors begin with a medical history and physical exam. Radiation to treat previous cancers can increase risk of lymphoma, so doctors check the patient’s medical history for such events. During the physical exam, the neck, armpits and groin are examined for evidence of swollen lymph nodes. The physician may palpitate the belly to check for fluid retention. Initially, doctors often prescribe antibiotics to see if lymph node swelling is the result of a bacterial infection. If antibiotics are ineffective, doctors proceed with testing.

Blood tests checking blood chemistry and blood cell count can give doctors important clues to the diagnosis. A biopsy may also be performed on one or more lymph nodes or on the bone marrow. Hodgkin’s and non-Hodgkin lymphoma present the same symptoms, so genetic testing is needed to determine which type of lymphoma is present. Hodgkin’s lymphoma is characterized by the presence of Reed-Sternberg cells, whereas non-Hodgkin lymphoma is found to have malignant lymphocytes. Leukemia is also characterized by malignant lymphocytes, so the diagnosis between the two is often difficult and requires bone marrow biopsy.

Causes and Prevention

Lymphoma is caused by mutations in lymphatic cells or lymphocytes that allow them to grow out of control and live longer than healthy cells. Those with family members who have had lymphoma are more likely to have lymphoma, as are those who have previously undergone radiation, organ transplant or have a weakened immune system. There are no known controllable genetic or environmental causes, so there is no reliable prevention for lymphoma at this time. Continue reading for Treatment information . . .

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