What is Lymphoma?

Lymphoma is a type of blood cancer that affects the lymphocytes. The lymphocytes are the white blood cells that form part of the immune system and help fight infection. Your body has 2 primary types of lymphocytes which are B cells and T cells. In lymphoma, either the B or T lymphocytes undergo a malignant change and therefore divide and multiply uncontrollably. These abnormal lymphocytes do not function properly and they crowd out the healthy cells. Lymphoma affects the normal functioning of the immune system.

There are 2 main types of lymphoma which are characterised by different symptoms and treatment options, and these include:

  • Hodgkin Lymphoma (HL) which is common in young adults between the ages of 15 and 30 years, and adults aged over 50 years.
  • Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma (NHL) which is common in older people.

There are various risk factors that can cause the development of lymphoma, and these include:

  • Certain genetic disorders (Wiskott-Aldrich Syndrome)
  • Exposure to environmental carcinogens
  • Some viruses such as HIV and Epstein Barr Virus

The warning signs of lymphoma are very subtle that you may not realise you have lymphoma, the most common symptoms of lymphoma include:

  • Chest pain, bone pain or tenderness
  • Coughing and difficulty breathing
  • Enlarged lymph glands
  • Fever
  • Loss of appetite
  • Loss of weight that can’t be explained
  • Night sweats
  • Ongoing tiredness or weakness
  • Skin irritation or itchiness

The treatment depends on the type of lymphoma you may have, and it may consist of a combination of 2 or more of the following modalities:

  • Biological therapy to help your immune system to destroy the lymphoma cells
  • Chemotherapy to kill the lymphoma cells — this may be 1, 2, or more drugs
  • Radiation therapy (high-energy x-rays) to kill the lymphoma cells
  • Stem cell or bone marrow transplant to replace the abnormal bone marrow
  • Targeted therapy to stop the growth of the lymphoma cells

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