Non-Hodgkin's lymphoma comprises a group of more than 30 types of related lymph-system cancers. The body's lympth system protects organs against infection. Although these related cancers are all cancers of the lymphocytes, a type of white blood cell, they exhibit varied symptoms, behaviors and outcomes. An estimated 65,000 adults and children are diagnosed with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma in the US every year. Non-Hodgkin's lymphoma is the more common of two types of lymphatic cancer.
The warning signs of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma are so subtle that often patients don't realize anything is wrong. The most common symptom, and often the only one, is swollen lymph nodes, which are painless lumps in your neck, armpits or groin.
Other symptoms may include:
- All-over-body itchiness
- Excessive night sweats
- Fatigue and weakness
- Unexplained, rapid weight loss
- Continuous or intermittent fever
- Breathlessness along with swelling of the face and neck.
Other unusual symptoms may arise as well, since lymphomas can occur in any organ. A lymphoma in the stomach can trigger abdominal pain, and a lymphoma in the brain can cause headaches or leg weakness.
If you experience these symptoms or are concerned that you might have lymphoma, see your doctor. Because most of these symptoms can also indicate harmless conditions, only a medical professional can properly diagnose you.
Experts aren't sure what causes non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, but they do know it occurs when your body produces too many abnormal lymphocytes (a type of white blood cell). The surplus white blood cells invade the lymph nodes and cause them to swell.
Researchers have identified several risk factors for non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, including:
- People with organ transplants who receive immune suppressants to prevent transplant rejection
- People with severe autoimmune conditions
- People infected with human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), human T-cell leukemia virus type I (HTLV-I) and probably hepatitis C virus (HCV).
Lymph node biopsy confirms a diagnosis of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. Additional tests are often required to determine how far the disease has spread. These tests may include:
- a physical examine to see which nodes in your body have enlarged
- blood tests as a baseline and to determine whether blood production has been affected
- a bone marrow test to see if your bone marrow is involved
- X-rays or CT scans of your chest and abdomen to identify any disease in those areas
- special scans like a PET scan or gallium scan.
Non-Hodgkin's lymphoma is usually treated with chemotherapy. In some cases, radiation treatment is prescribed.