Lymphoma falls under the ‘blood cancer’ category. It refers to the cancers that begin in the cells of the human lymphatic system, which includes lymph nodes, spleen, bone marrow, and thymus gland. People having weak immunity are more likely to get lymphoma.
Hodgkin’s lymphoma and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma are types of lymphoma. Hodgkin’s lymphoma affects antibodies producing B lymphocytes or B cells that fight germs.. Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma affects B cells or T cells. Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma is more common than Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
What are signs & symptoms?
- Swelling of lymph nodes in neck, armpits, or groin
- Fatigue (Tiredness)
- Abnormal weight loss
What are the diagnostic tests for lymphoma?
Bone marrow aspiration or biopsy: The doctor removes fluid or tissue from bone marrow using a needle to look for lymphoma cells.
Chest X-ray. It uses low doses of radiation to capture inside images of the chest.
MRI: The radio waves and strong magnets help make precise images of the affected area. MRI identifies the size of cancer and other tumors inside the body.
Molecular test: It helps to find changes in genes, proteins, and other substances of cancer cells to confirm the type of lymphoma.
Blood tests: It checks the infection in the blood.
PET scan: It helps to detect the cancer spread. The doctor puts a small amount of a low-level radioactive substance into the blood. The substance attaches to the cancer cells. A special camera shows any areas of radioactivity.
How advanced is my lymphoma?
The doctor identifies the spread of lymphoma or lymphoma stage to decide the types of treatment required. The stages are based on the cancer growth or cancer spread.
Lymphoma is classified as stages I, II, III, IV.
Cancer is limited to a single lymphatic area (lymph nodes, tonsils, thymus, spleen, or one localized non-lymph site).
Cancer spread in two or more lymph node groups on the same side of the diaphragm.
Cancer spread in lymph nodes on either side of the diaphragm.
It is the advanced stage. Lymphoma spread in the lymph nodes and at least one body organ outside the lymphatic system (lungs, liver, bone marrow, or bones).
Ask your doctor about these stages in detail.
What are the suitable treatments for me?
Several kinds of treatment are available for lymphoma, including radiation, immunotherapy, targeted therapy, chemotherapy, and stem cell therapy.
Radiation kills cancer cells. It effectively treats lymphoma as most lymphomas are radio-sensitive. The rays are directed at the affected area from a machine outside the body. It kills only cancer cells.
The common side effects are fatigue, itchy skin, loss of appetite, and diarrhea (dysentery).
Most side effects may improve after radiation ends. Ask your doctor about what to expect.
Chemo is the primary treatment for lymphoma. You can take chemo medicines intravenously or orally. The drugs spread through the body via the blood. Chemo is given in cycles or rounds. Each cycle has a rest time. Chemo is helpful if cancer has spread in the body. Chemotherapy may decrease the chances of lymphoma recurrence.
The common side effects are fatigue, body pain, and hair loss. These side effects go away after chemo treatment ends. If you experience any side effects, talk to your doctor.
Targeted therapy drugs are helpful to treat lymphoma. These drugs majorly affect cancer cells and rarely normal cells.
High blood pressure, fatigue, nausea, heart problems, and blood clot are the most common side effects. Talk to your doctor for any help.
Immunotherapy boosts the immune system to attack the cancer cells. You can administer the drugs intravenously, as a shot, or as pills.
The common side effects are fatigue, headache, constipation, skin rash, and appetite loss (anorexia).
STEM CELL TRANSPLANT
If any of the above treatments don’t work, the doctor may opt for a stem cell transplant. Initially, the doctor prescribes very high doses of chemotherapy. It destroys cancer cells and stem cells in the bone marrow that produce new blood cells. After chemotherapy, you will get a stem cell transplant to replace the destroyed cells.
The two types of stem cell transplant are:
- Autologous transplant (using your stem cells).
- Allogeneic transplant (using stem cells from a donor).
The common side effects are mouth pain, throat pain, nausea, vomiting, and infection.
What are the other treatment options?
The other treatment options may or may not be standard medical treatments. These treatments include vitamins, herbs, and diets. Talk to your doctor about other treatment options.
What to expect after treatment?
You may have fear of cancer recurrence. Visit your doctor every three months after the treatment ends. Do not skip follow-up visits. Your doctors will ask you about new symptoms. A physical examination and diagnostic tests may help to check recurrence.
For the first year, the follow-up visits may be every three months. After the first year, follow-up visits might be every six months, and then at once a year after five years.
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