Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma

An uncontrolled growth and division of the cells lead to the formation of an abnormal cell mass called tumor or cancer. Non-Hodgkin's lymphoma (NHL) is a cancer that originates in lymphatic system; it is the cancer of the lymphocytes, which are a type of white blood cells. It is an uncommon type of cancer.

Symptoms

The most prominent symptom of Non-Hodgkin's lymphoma is the presence of swollen lymph nodes usually in the neck, groins, and the armpit. The other symptoms include:

  • Unintentional weight loss
  • Fever and chills which occur intermittently
  • Drenching night sweats
  • Persistent cough
  • Feeling of breathlessness
  • Itchy skin all over the body

Complications

Some patients may experience the below complications in spite of undergoing the treatment.

  • Weakened immune system, which will usually recover after few months or years of treatment
  • Infertility issues may arise with chemotherapy and radiotherapy which can be either temporary or permanent
  • Secondary cancers may develop several years after treatment with chemotherapy and radiotherapy

Causes

Physicians so far do not know the exact cause for NHL. It occurs due to the continuous growth and division of the abnormal lymphocytes (a type of white blood cells). This causes an enlargement of the lymph node. It can begin either in the B-cells or T-cells of the lymphatic system.

Coping and support

It is quite distressing for the patient to know that he/she has been diagnosed with cancer. Therefore, coping and support for the patient are of great importance for leading a happy life. The below measures can be of much help:

  • Learn about the type of cancer you have in detail
  • Keep in regular touch with friends and family members and talk to them
  • Join support groups to feel better among people in similar situation

Initially, your doctor performs a physical examination to check the areas of swollen lymph nodes.

Upon confirmation of the diagnosis of NHL, further tests are performed to check if the cancer has spread to the other areas.

Test typePurpose of the test
Bone marrow biopsy A definitive test to diagnose cancer, Involves the examination of a suspected tissue under microscope for cancer-related changes
Blood test To check liver function, kidney function, uric acid, and protein levels
X-rays, MRI, PET and CT scan To look for tumors and the stage of cancer

The main treatment for Non-Hodgkin's lymphoma includes chemotherapy and radiotherapy. In the initial stages, a biopsy itself is enough to remove the cancer without the need for further treatment. The treatment usually depends on your overall health and age. The following are the treatment options for NHL:

Wait and watch : if the cancer is in the slow-developing phase, a watchful waiting is recommended with the hope that the cancer might go away on its own.
Chemotherapy : it is a widely used therapy which involves the use of drugs to kill the cancer cells. The drugs can be given either intravenously or orally over a period of few months. Chemotherapy may be combined with steroid therapy to make it more effective.
Radiotherapy : it is often used to treat the early stages of NHL, which has not spread. It may also be combined with chemotherapy.
Monoclonal antibody therapy : these medications attach to the surface of the cancer cells and direct the immune cells to destroy them. Rituximab is the most commonly used monoclonal antibody.
Age : The risk of developing Non-Hodgkin's lymphoma is more in people aged 65 and above. However, people of any age group can develop this cancer.
Gender : NHL is slightly more likely diagnosed in men compared to women.
Familial : If your first-degree relative has Non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, then you are more likely to develop the condition.
Chemical exposure : Regular exposure to insecticides, weed killers, chemicals in the industries, etc. can also increase the risk for NHL.

Medical conditions that weaken the immune system, immune-suppressing medications and exposure to Epstein-Barr virus can increase the risk of developing NHL.