Lymphoma Lymphoma: Know all about causes, symptoms and treatment of Lymphoma

What is it?

Lymphoma is the name for a group of cancers of the lymphatic system which defends the body against infections. The channels of the lymphatic system drain out excess fluid from the tissues into the blood stream. In case of invasion of the body by a foreign agent, lymph nodes or lymph glands allow the white blood cells to cluster around the foreign body and destroy it. Lymph nodes are bean shaped organs of the lymphatic system that are present in the neck or armpit area, upper thigh or groin and may become swollen during infection. The other organs of the lymphatic system are the spleen, appendix, tonsils and the bone marrow.

What are the causes?


Lymphomas are caused by the uncontrollable growth of abnormal white blood cells that are cancerous. The exact cause of this sudden increase is not known. There are some risk factors that may make a person more prone to developing the disease.

  • Exposure to radiation or certain viruses
  • Some problem in the body’s defence mechanism or immunity like the contraction of diseases like AIDS
  • After effects of chemical treatments like chemotherapy or drugs that are given to reduce the after effects of organ transplantation.


What are the symptoms?

Both the types of lymphomas have some common symptoms:

  • Enlarged but painless lymph nodes
  • Fatigue
  • Weight loss
  • Unexplained fevers
  • Sweating at night



What are the types?


Lymphoma has two main forms – Hodgkin’s Lymphoma and Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.
Hodgkin’s lymphoma / Hodgkin’s disease (HD) – is a cancer of a certain kind of lymphatic cell, the Reed-Sternberg cell which is a large abnormal white blood cell. When this cell is detected in a sample from the lymph node, the diagnosis for Hodgkin’s disease is confirmed. It occurs in adolescents and young adults and is distinguished from the other form of lymphomas only by the presence of the abnormal cell. This disease is the more curable form out of all lymphomas.

Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma (NHL) – also called lymphosarcoma, this is a disease that originates in one type of lymph tissue – either in the lymph nodes, spleen, bone marrow or any of the other tissues. In NHL, a certain type of white blood cell is affected. These could be the cells that make defending proteins, or those that have natural killing properties. The disease is classified on the basis of how fast it grows. Very fast growing NHL is considered high-grade while the slow growing form is classified as low-grade.


How is the diagnosis made?

Lymphoma is diagnosed by biopsies where a tissue sample is tested for abnormalities. If the presence of the Reed-Sternberg cell is detected, HD is confirmed. The various biopsies that are done are from the bone marrow, lymph nodes and the cancerous mass of cells. In addition, blood tests including CBC (complete blood count) are done. X-rays of the suspected area are studied. Since the disease spreads in stages, moving from one lymph node to a lymphatic tissue and finally to the whole body, CT scans of the affected area are taken.

What is the treatment?

All patients with lymphoma need either radiation therapy or chemotherapy or a combination of both. In the former, the cancerous cells are killed with the help of deep X-ray radiation. In chemotherapy, powerful drugs like methotrexate, vincristine and cyclophophamide are used to kill the malignant cells. The choice of treatment depends on the location and extent of spread of the disease. Most patients with HD are able to lead a relatively disease-free life. Though NHL has a lower survival rate, therapy increases the life span considerably. However, recovery also depends on the stage at which the cancer is detected.

In some cases, bone marrow transplants are done. Removal of the affected spleen is also done in some cases. After the treatment, patients are monitored for relapse of the condition. This monitoring decreases with time if the patient shows no symptoms of disease recurrence.



There are side effects of radiation and chemotherapy like:

  • Burning sensation of the skin
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Hair loss
  • Extreme weakness and fatigue
  • Lowered blood counts
  • Increased risk of infection
  • Possible damage to organs like the kidneys, liver and lungs.



DoctorNDTV Team

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