In Australia, each year about 5000 individuals are diagnosed with lymphoma, making it the sixth most common type of cancer in the country. Approximately 85% of these cases are diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma.
Non-Hodgkin lymphoma is not a single disorder. There are actually more than 30 different subtypes of non-Hodgkin lymphoma. These different subtypes are largely divided into the following 2 main groups:
- B-cell lymphomas – which arise from developing B-cells
- T-cell lymphomas – which arise from developing T-cells.
Actually, B and T-cell lymphomas are the cancers of the lymphatic system. The lymphatic system contains specialized white blood cells called lymphocytes which help protect the body from disease and infection.
Therefore, these lymphomas arise when developing B and T-lymphocytes undergo any malignant change, and grow in an uncontrolled way. Thus, abnormal lymphocytes form gatherings of cancer cells called tumors, in lymph nodes and other parts of the body.
What causes non-Hodgkin lymphoma?
The exact cause of lymphoma remains unknown. But it has been thought that they result from damage to one or more of the genes which control the development of blood cells.
In most cases, individuals who are diagnosed with lymphoma have no family history of the disease. Like many other cancers, damage to special proteins which control the division and growth of cells may play a vital role in the development of lymphoma. The following are some factors which may put people at a higher risk of developing lymphoma;
- Immunosuppression; a small percentage of non-Hodgkin lymphomas occur in people with the weakened immune system either by a viral infection or because of drugs which affect the function of the immune system
- Infection; mainly in individuals with immunosuppression, viruses like the Epstein-Barr virus or the human T-cell leukemia/lymphoma virus may severely harm developing lymphocytes
- Chemicals; there is some evidence suggesting that people exposed to high concentrations of agricultural chemicals may have a greater risk of developing lymphoma
- Lifestyle; some lifestyle factors counting obesity and smoking can increase your risk of developing non-Hodgkin lymphoma.
What are the symptoms of non-Hodgkin lymphoma?
The symptoms of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma may vary depending upon its location within the body. Some individuals do not have any signs when they are first diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma. In such cases, the disease may be picked up by an accident, for instance during a routine chest x-ray. Commonly, lymphoma presents as a firm usually painless swelling of a lymph node, in the neck, under the arms or in the groin.
It is noteworthy to mention that most people who go to their clinician with inflamed lymph nodes do not have lymphoma. Often, swollen glands result from an infection, such as the sore throat. In this case, the glands in the neck are generally painful and swollen. Other signs and symptoms of non-Hodgkin lymphoma may include;
- regular and recurrent fevers
- excessive sweating, usually at night
- unintentional weight loss
- persistent fatigue and lack of energy
- generalized itching
Sometimes non-Hodgkin lymphoma starts in the lymph nodes or in deeper parts of the body like those in the abdomen causing bloating, or the lymph nodes in the chest causing coughing, discomfort in the chest and difficulty breathing.
When it is first diagnosed, it is common to be found in different sites in the body at the same time. It can also spread to any organ and may involve the liver, spleen, brain and spinal cord and bone marrow. Some of these signs may also be seen in other diseases, including viral infections. It is vital to see your clinician if you have any signs which do not go away so that you can be treated properly.