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Hodgkin’s Lymphoma

Anatomical facts:

The lymphatic system of the body is a network of vessels, which bear close resemblance to the blood vessels, but are responsible for carrying a specialized fluid known as lymph. The lymph fluid is a liquid which does not possess any color and does include infection combating white blood cells known as lymphocytes. These lymphocytes are produced and stored within the lymph nodes. Lymph nodes are minor organs shaped like beans. These organs cluster along the entire lymphatic system. Lymphocytes are two main types – namely the T lymphocytes, also known as the T cells, and the B-lymphocytes, which are also known as the B cells. Some other important parts of the lymphatic system include the tonsils, spleen, bone marrow and the thymus. There are numerous other parts of the body where lymphatic tissue is found such as the skin, stomach and the intestines. The entire lymphatic system is an integral unit of the immune system of the body.

What is Hodgkin’s Lymphoma?

One of the most curable forms of cancer in the world today is Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Since the 1970’s,  there has been a significant improvement in research and treatments for curing Hodgkin’s lymphoma. This has resulted in a considerable decrease in the overall death rate associated with this type of cancer. The 5 year survival rate for Hodgkin’s lymphoma is now 85%.

According to an estimate given by the American Cancer Society, there are nearly 8000 new cases of this cancer reported in the country every year. Based on research, it has been seen that Hodgkin’s lymphoma shows peak incidence in two age groups: early adulthood (ages of 15 to 40 years) and late adulthood (occurring after the age of 55). Almost 10-15% of  Hodgkin’s lymphoma cases are seen in children from the age of 16 or younger.

There are many people who are at a greater risk of developing Hodgkin’s lymphoma than the rest of the population. These include people who have had a history of a condition known as infectious mononucleosis, commonly known as mono. These individuals have a risk that is 4 times greater than people who have not been infected. Those people who have compromised or weakened immune systems (such as in case of AIDS, other immunodeficiency disorders, or patients who have received organ transplantation during their life) also have an increased risk of developing Hodgkin’s lymphoma. It is important to note that unlike other cancers, lymphoma rarely has factors associated with lifestyle or other occupational exposures. Although Hodgkin’s Lymphoma is a common type of lymphoma, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma is far more common[1].

Characteristics of Hodgkin’s Lymphoma:

There two common cancers that originate from the lymphatic system of the body and Hodgkin’s lymphoma is one of them. This particular cancer is characterized by the abnormal production of unique B cell or B-lymphocytes known as the Reed-Sternberg cells. The size of these Reed-Sternberg cells is much larger as compared to regular lymphocytes, and their appearance is also unlike that of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma cells as well as those of other cancers. Hodgkin’s lymphoma generally affects one or multiple lymph nodes of the body, and it may occur in any portion of the body. It has been noted, however, that the disease generally starts from the upper region of the body, most prominently the under arm region or the chest and neck region.

The spread of this particular cancer occurs through the lymphatic system in an orderly manner from one lymph node to the next. It has the potential to spread from one part of the body to distant parts of the body through the lymphatic vessels. The spread of Hodgkin’s lymphoma through the blood vessels is rare and does not generally occur. The pain associated with this cancer is caused when the enlarged lymphatic tissues press pressure on the healthy tissues of the body. Hodgkin’s lymphoma is broadly classified into two main types: nodular lymphocyte-predominant Hodgkin’s lymphoma and classical Hodgkin’s disease. As the condition progresses, it may compromise the ability of the body to fight disease, making individuals more susceptible to infections. The immune system of the body gets more and more compromised unless the condition is treated.

Treatment:

Nearly all cases of Hodgkin’s lymphoma developed these days can be effectively cured with the help of a combination of two therapies, radiation therapy and chemotherapy. Chemotherapy in case of Hodgkin’s lymphoma is a combination of multiple drugs given simultaneously. Two known treatment regimens are BEACOPP (comprised of bleomycin, etoposide, cyclosphamide, procarbazine, adriamycin, vincristine and prednisone) and ABVD  (comprised of bleomysin, decarbazine, doxorubicin and vinblastine).

The nature and the combination of the drugs given during chemotherapy depend entirely upon the severity and staging of the cancer at the time of treatment. Most people do make a full recovery due to advanced treatments and early diagnosis.

[1]www.mayoclinic.com/health/hodgkins-disease/DS00186

 

Additional Resources:

Understanding Hodgkin’s Lymphoma: A Guide for Patients. This 84-page booklet provides a comprehensive review of Hodgkin’s lymphoma including diagnosis, treatment, coping with side effects, clinical trial experimental treatments, and living with cancer. Relevant for adults and children. Individual copies are free and can be obtained by calling the Lymphoma Research Foundation at 800-500-9976.

The Wellness Community. Frankly Speaking about Lymphoma. Access at: www.thewellnesscommunity.org and click on “Cancer Information” on the left sidebar. This section explains lymphoma and its treatment, integrating mind-body practices into lymphoma treatment, and managing the personal impact of the illness.

Adler, Elizabeth M. 2008. Living with Lymphoma: A Patient’s Guide. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins Univ. Press. Written by a neurobiologist and a lymphoma survivor, this book offers a detailed explanation of cell biology that helps understand the disease and its treatment. While this book provides an in-depth look at the medical side of lymphoma and provides detailed descriptions of specific drugs, drug combinations, and treatment approaches, psychosocial issues are not as meticulously covered.

Holman, Peter, Jodi Garrett, and William D. Jansen. 2004. / 100 Questions and Answers about Lymphoma. Sudbury, MA: Jones and Bartlett. Detailed information about lymphoma is presented in an easy-to-read question-and-answer format. Terms are explained on the sidebar, and the book includes lists of Web sites, organizations, literature, and resources on general and specific topic related to Hodgkin’s lymphoma. This book was co-authored by a lymphoma specialist, an oncology nurse, and a lymphoma survivor.

This article was originally published on 7/12/2014 and last revision and update of it was 9/14/2015.