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Lymphoma - An Overview

Cancer is the uncontrolled growth of abnormal cells that can spread throughout the body. These cells start out normal but change and multiply without control or order.

Cancer is not just one disease. They are a group of more than 100 different diseases. All organs of the body are made up of cells. Normally, cells divide to produce more cells only when the body needs them. If cells divide when new ones are not needed, they form a mass of excess tissue, called a tumor. Tumors can be benign (not cancer) or malignant (cancer). Depending on where the cancer begins determines the type of cancer. For example, cancer that first effect brain tissue can form a brain tumor.

Lymphoma is a type of cancer that originates in the lymphatic tissue. This includes lymph nodes (or lymph glands), thymus gland, spleen, tonsils, adenoids and bone marrow. Lymphoma results when a lymphocyte, a type of WBC, becomes abnormal and live beyond their normal lifecycle. These cells keep dividing, forming a mass of cells resulting in enlarged lymph glands. Lymphoma, the third most common type of cancer in children following leukemia and malignant brain tumors, are divided into two types. Hodgkin's Disease is one type. A specific type of malignant cell called Reed-Sternberg cells characterizes this form of lymphoma. This type of lymphoma affects older children and adolescents.

The second type of lymphoma is called Non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma (NHL). This form of lymphoma is further subdivided into three types. NHL is distinguished from Acute Lymphocytic Leukemia (ALL) in that NHL arise mainly from lymph nodes while ALL mainly comes from bone marrow.

The signs and symptoms of lymphoma include painless enlargement of lymph nodes in the neck, above the collarbone, in the armpits and in the groin. The thymus gland, a large gland located in the chest, is part of the lymphatic system and when involved in lymphoma, can enlarge, causing cough, shortness of breath, and blood flow problems to and from the heart. Nonspecific symptoms may include fatigue, poor appetite, fever, night sweets and weight loss.

The diagnosis is made based on the symptoms, physical examination, biopsy of lymph nodes, and blood tests. The blood tests include blood chemistries and a complete blood count (CBC). The chemistries will detect abnormalities in the liver or kidneys while the CBC will detect abnormal types and numbers of lymphocytes. Additional tests include X-rays, ultrasound, CT, MRI and bone scans. Bone marrow biopsy and lumbar puncture may also be performed.

Treatment of lymphoma is based on the stage of the disease. Staging is a way to categorize or classify patients according to how extensive the disease is at the time of diagnosis. In Hodgkin's disease and in Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma there are four stages. Chemotherapy and/or radiation therapy are used to treat lymphoma, depending on the stage of the disease.

The survival rate for lymphoma has improved. In 1960, the overall survival rate was 31 percent for NHL. Today, that rate is up to 52 percent. In children, the five-year relative survival for NHL is now 78 percent. Since there is a greater chance for survival in the early stages, knowing the symptoms and going to your doctor early is very important. For more information, visit The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society on the WEB.

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