What Exactly is Lymphoma?
Lymphoma is not a single disease, it is in fact a group of diseases in which the cells of the immune system become cancerous and begin to divide and multiply in an uncontrolled manner in a lymph node. Initially a single lymph node may be affected however the cancer may quickly spread around the body through the lymphatic system so that other nodes and also other tissues, such as the bone marrow, become affected.
A number of the immune system cell types can become cancerous including the T cells and the B cells which are the body’s two main defense mechanisms against illness and infection. The immune system cells are carried in the blood stream and through the lymphatic system and so the lymphoma cancers can be very mobile and affect areas of the body far from the original cancerous site.
The fact that you have swollen lymph glands does not automatically mean you have a lymphoma cancer because there are a number of other diseases which cause the lymph nodes to swell; in fact any disease which requires the assistance of the immune system will cause mild swelling in many of the lymph glands. If however you have swelling in a single gland that is painless and symptom free then you should make an appointment with your doctor just to check it out.
There are various types of lymphoma cancer however the two main types are Hodgkin’s disease and non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. Hodgkin’s disease is characterized by painless enlargement of one or more lymph nodes, most commonly in the chest, neck and armpits. If the caner has spread from these initial sites then fevers, night sweats, weight loss and bone pain can also occur. Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, which is the more common disease of the two, may start in exactly the same way however the patient may also develop an enlarged spleen, anemia and general malaise.
Because the lymphoma cancers are so mobile a sufferer can often experience symptoms in other areas of the body that they would not necessarily associate with cancer which means that unless you know what to look for i.e. swollen lymph glands, you may well dismiss the problem as being due to a simple illness, such as the flu, as this also causes many of the symptoms displayed by lymphoma patients. Also, because the cells of the immune system are primarily affected a person with a lymphoma cancer will quickly become more susceptible than usual to even the weakest pathogens i.e. their immune system becomes weaker and fails to protect the body from disease.
The good news is that as with other forms of cancer, lymphomas are treatable and so anyone diagnosed shouldn’t give up hope of leading a long and healthy life. You need to find out as much information as you can about the illness and find coping strategies that work for you and your family. You will need to undergo either chemotherapy, radiation therapy or possibly a bone marrow transplant however lymphoma patients today have a high survival rate and many people are cured of the disease totally.