Lymphoma is a cancer of a part of the immune system called the lymphatic system. There are many types of lymphoma. One type is called Hodgkin’s disease. The rest are called non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
The lymphatic system is part of the immune system. It consists of a network of vessels that carry fluid called lymph, similar to the way that the networks of blood vessels carry blood throughout the body. Lymph contains white blood cells called lymphocytes. Lymphocytes attack a variety of infectious agents as well as many cells in the precancerous stages of development.
Symptoms of Lymphoma
Fevers – which can come and go, this can be accompanied by chills or a feeling of temperature swings (HL, NHL).
Chest Pain: If lymphoma involves the lymphatic tissue of the thymus, the gland located in front of the heart, it may cause chest pain. In addition, an enlarged thymus may press on nearby structures such as the trachea (windpipe) or superior vena cava (SVC), the large vein that carries blood from the head and arms back to the heart.
Coughing, respiratory difficulties in general, and shortness of breath can all be experienced if tissue is affected in the chest cavity. This puts pressure on the trachea at times causing the symptoms.
Itching – itching without an apparent cause or rash, sometimes deep in the skin rather than on the surface, sometimes on different parts of the body.
The enlarged lymph node sometimes causes other symptoms by pressing against a vein or lymphatic vessel (swelling of an arm or leg), a nerve (pain, numbness, or tingling), or the stomach (early feeling of fullness).
Trachea: Pressure on the trachea can lead to coughing, fatigue, shortness of breath, and other respiratory difficulties. Pressure on the superior vena cava may produce SVC syndrome, a swelling of the head and arms. SVC syndrome involving the brain can be fatal and must be treated immediately. But enlarged lymphatic tissue in the chest cavity generally tends to displace – rather than press upon or encase- adjacent structures.
Treatment for Lymphoma
Chemotherapy: Doctors use a combination of drugs — given orally or by injection — against fast-growing cancer cells. This combined treatment approach is used for intermediate- and high-grade lymphomas and advanced stages of low-grade lymphomas. A single drug may be used if you have a low-grade type of the disease.
Radiation therapy: Radiation therapy is the use of high-energy X-rays to kill cancer cells and shrink tumors. Radiation for non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma usually comes from a machine outside the body, called external-beam radiation therapy. Radiation given to the brain is called cranial irradiation. Radiation therapy may be used alone but more often is given in addition to chemotherapy especially for Hodgkin’s disease.
Biological Therapy: Biological therapy, also called immunotherapy, is a form of treatment that uses the body’s immune system, either directly or indirectly, to fight cancer or to lessen the side effects that can be caused by some cancer treatments. It uses materials made by the body or made in a laboratory to boost, direct or restore the body’s natural defenses against disease. Biological therapy is sometimes called biological response modifier (BRM) therapy.
Surgery: Surgery plays little role in the treatment of HD, and it rarely is used as a therapeutic option for NHL. For some lymphomas that arise in organs outside of the lymph nodes (extranodal) such as the thyroid or stomach, surgical resection (cutting away) of the tumor may be considered. However, surgery is associated with complications such as adhesions (abnormal “joining” of organs and tissues by fiber-like bands), nerve injury, and cosmetic effects, and it does not prevent tumor regret.