Lymphoma is a type of cancer which affects the lymphatic system of the body, which is a vital part of the body’s overall germ-fighting network. The lymphatic system includes the spleen, thymus gland, bone marrow, and lymph nodes. When an individual is experiencing lymphoma symptoms they can affect all those areas of the body as well as interfere with the organ function of other areas of the body. There are many types of lymphoma, but the two main subtypes are:
- Hodgkin’s lymphoma
- Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma
The lymphoma symptoms you experience and the type of treatment that is best will depend on your lymphoma type and its severity. Lymphoma treatment most often involves immunotherapy medications, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, a bone marrow transplant, or a combination of all of these.
Common lymphoma symptoms include:
- Painless swelling in the lymph nodes of the neck, armpits, or groin
- Persistent and chronic fatigue
- Fever or a higher than normal body temperature
- Night sweats
- Shortness of breath
- Unexplained weight loss
- Chest pain or pressure
- Loss of appetite
- Feeling full after only a few bites of food
Experiencing one or more of these lymphoma symptoms does not necessarily mean that you have lymphoma. For the most part, many of these symptoms are more likely to be caused by other issues, such as an infection. Still, if you are suffering from any of these symptoms it is important to have them checked by a doctor so the cause can be found and treated if necessary.
What is Lymphoma?
Lymphoma is a type of cancer that starts in the infection-fighting cells that reside in the body’s immune system. These cells are known as lymphocytes and are most commonly found in the lymph nodes, spleen, bone marrow, thymus, and other parts of the body. When an individual has lymphoma, their lymphocytes can quickly mutate and grow out of control.
There are two main types of lymphoma that individuals are commonly diagnosed with:
- Non-Hodgkin- the most common type of lymphoma
- Hodgkin- the less common type of lymphoma
Non-Hodgkin’s lymphomas begin when a type of white blood cell, known as a T cell or a B cell, mutates and becomes abnormal. The cell begins to divide rapidly, creating even more abnormal cells in the body. As the cells divide and grow, they spread to almost every part of the body. Most of the time, doctors are unable to say for sure why one person gets non-Hodgkin lymphoma and another does not. Often those with a weakened immune system are at an increased risk of developing lymphoma symptoms.
Each type of lymphoma involves a different type of lymphocyte cells. Since every type of lymphoma can grow at a different rate, each will also respond quite differently to treatment.Luckily, lymphoma is very treatable, through the outlook can vary greatly depending on the type of lymphoma an individual has and the stage in which it is diagnosed.
One thing to keep in mind as you study lymphoma symptoms is that lymphoma is different from leukemia. Though the two are often confused, each of these cancers actually begins in a different type of cell. Lymphoma cancers start in the infection-fighting lymphocyte cells. Leukemia starts in the blood forming cells that exist inside of the bone marrow. Additionally, lymphoma is not the same as lymphedema, which is a collection of fluid that can form in the body’s tissues when damage or a blockage occurs.
When you experience any lymphoma symptoms always contact a doctor, even if you believe that the symptoms may be the result of a more minor illness. In all cancers, early intervention is key. The earlier stage cancer you are diagnosed with, the better your chances of making a full recovery.
What causes Lymphoma?
As of now, there is no definitive cause for lymphoma. It is known that lymphoma can develop when the white blood cells known as lymphocytes grow out of control. Typically, this has been attributed to genetic changes that occur in the cells that mean they no longer “listen” to the signals that control their growth and eventual death.
Researchers are finding out more and more about the genetic changes that occur with lymphoma, thus identifying new treatments. In most cases, it is not clear what causes the genetic changes to occur in certain individuals. The logic is that most genetic changes simply happen by chance. In order for lymphoma to develop, several genetic changes must occur, this is known as the “multi-hit theory.”
While there is not one identifiable cause for lymphoma symptoms, there are several factors that make a person more likely to develop lymphoma. Since there are many different types of lymphoma, the risk factors can vary greatly between each type. Most individuals who develop lymphoma have none of these risk factors and thus the cause is unknown.
The main risk factors for lymphoma seem to be problems with an individual’s immune system. This is different from other forms of cancer where lifestyle factors typically play a large role in the development. Anything that can increase your risk of a certain condition is deemed a “risk factor.” Having one or more risk factors for lymphoma does not necessarily mean you will develop the condition at some point in your life. It simply means that you are more likely to develop lymphoma symptoms than someone with no risk factors at all.
For the average person, the risk of developing lymphoma is quite small. Even with risk factors, the likelihood is minimal.
Risk factors for lymphoma include:
- Age and sex
- Family history of cancers
- Immune system problems
- Previous cancers
- Non-cancerous lymphocyte conditions
- Exposure to industrial chemicals
- Were treated for cancer with radiation
While risk factors do not necessarily lead to a lymphoma diagnosis, they are things that you should keep in mind. If you are experiencing any lymphoma symptoms it is recommended that you see a physician as soon as possible. While most of the time your symptoms will be traced back to a more minor illness, it is always best to air on the side of caution and examine potential causes before it’s too late.