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The lymphatic system plays an important role in keeping us healthy. (Read about "The Lymph System") Small lymph nodes are found all over the body with clusters in the underarms, neck, chest, groin and abdomen. They are all connected by a system of vessels. They carry infection fighting cells, but sometimes something goes wrong and cells grow out of control, and that is the cancer called lymphoma.
Lymphoma is broken down into two major types: Hodgkin's disease and non-Hodgkin's lymphoma.
The symptoms of Hodgkin's and non-Hodgkin's lymphoma are different.
ACS says sometimes the only symptom of Hodgkin's is being tired all the time.
Any symptoms are not sure signs of lymphoma. They can also indicate the flu or other infections (Read about "Influenza"), but it is important to see your doctor if you have symptoms, to deal with any health problem that might be present. NCI warns that early lymphoma does NOT cause pain. The earlier the treatment, the more likely it will be successful. (Read about "Cancer Check-ups")
Before treatment can begin on lymphoma, an important question has to be answered. That's, at what stage is the lymphoma? Staging is a way of finding out if the cancer has spread and if it has, where to. According to NCI, a doctor will consider the following in deciding what stage the lymphoma is in:
The actual term used is staging. The following is the way staging is defined, according to NCI for adult non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, childhood non-Hodgkin's lymphoma and Hodgkin's disease.
Adult non-Hodgkin's lymphoma
Stage I adult non-Hodgkin's lymphoma is divided into stage I and stage IE ("E" stands for extranodal and means that the cancer is found in an organ or tissue other than the lymph nodes). (Read about "The Lymph System")
Stage II adult non-Hodgkin's lymphoma is divided into stage II and stage IIE ("E" stands for extranodal and means that the cancer is found in an organ or tissue other than the lymph nodes).
Stage III adult non-Hodgkin's lymphoma is divided into stage III, stage IIIE ("E" stands for extranodal and means that the cancer is found in an organ or tissue other than the lymph nodes), stage IIIS ("S" stands for spleen and means that the cancer is found in the spleen), and stage IIIS+E.
In stage IV adult non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, the cancer either:
spread to one organ other than the lymph nodes and has spread to lymph nodes far away from that organ.
Adult non-Hodgkin's lymphomas are also described in terms of how fast they grow and the location of affected lymph nodes.
Childhood non-Hodgkin's lymphoma
Cancer is found in one group of lymph nodes or one area outside the lymph nodes.
Any of the following means the disease is stage II:
Any of the following mean the disease is stage III:
Cancer has spread to the bone marrow or to the brain and/or the spinal cord. (Read about "Nervous System")
Cancer is found in only one lymph node area or in only one area or organ outside of the lymph nodes.
Either of the following means the disease is stage II:
Cancer is found in lymph node areas on both sides of the diaphragm. The cancer may also have spread to an area or organ near the lymph node areas and/or to the spleen.
Either of the following means the disease is stage IV:
Treatment depends on the stage as well as the specific type of lymphoma that is present. Chemotherapy, radiation or a combination of these are the most common treatments for both Hodgkin's and non-Hodgkin's lymphomas. (Read about "Radiation Therapy" "Cancer Treatments") Sometimes the treatment for indolent lymphomas (lymphomas that tend to grow and spread slowly) is what is called "watchful waiting," meaning no treatment, according to LRFA and NCI.
A bone marrow transplant may also be an option, especially for a patient with non-Hodgkin's that has returned. The transplant provides the patient with healthy cells to replace other cells destroyed by cancer treatment. (Read about "Transplants") The bone marrow can come from a donor or can come from the patient. The bone marrow is removed, treated to kill the cancer cells and then returned to the patient after he or she has had heavy radiation or chemotherapy.
Other treatments, including biological therapy or immunotherapy, may be used in addition to chemotherapy or radiation. For example, monoclonal antibodies can use the body's own immune system (Read about "The Immune System"), either directly or indirectly, to help fight the cancer. The Lymphoma Research Foundation of America says an advantage of many of these therapies is that they can spare more healthy cells and be less toxic than standard chemotherapy and radiation therapy. For example, antibodies can target and attach to cancer cells or even to specific parts of cancer cells throughout the body, leading to the destruction of the cancer cell, without affecting as wide an array of normal cells.
Someone with lymphoma may also develop a condition called hypercalcemia - too much calcium in the blood - which in turn can cause loss of appetite, nausea, thirst, fatigue, muscle weakness, restlessness and confusion. This can often require medication and rehydration. (Read about "Hypercalcemia")
Not all therapies are appropriate for all patients, of course. In considering treatment options, there are a number of things to take into account. You'll need to discuss potential outcomes, side effects and benefits carefully with your doctor.
More Cancer Information:
For a list of individual types of cancer, see Cancer: What It Is
All Concept Communications material is provided for information only and is neither advice nor a substitute for proper medical care. Consult a qualified healthcare professional who understands your particular history for individual concerns.
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