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Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma

Anatomical facts:

Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and Hodgkin’s lymphoma are two of the most common types of lymphomas that originate from the lymphatic system of the body[1]. The lymphatic system comprises of a large network of many vessels which are similar in nature to the blood vessels. The only difference lies in the fact that the lymphatic vessels carry a specialized fluid known as lymph to all the parts of the body. The lymph fluid is entirely devoid of color and contains specialized white blood cells which help in combating infections. These cells are known as lymphocytes.

Lymphocytes are produced in Bone marrow.  Some go right to the lymph glands, others migrate to the thymus for activation.  The are all later stored in the lymph nodes. Lymph nodes are small sized organs which resemble beans and are found clustering along the entire lymphatic system of the body. Lymphocytes are broadly divided into two main types namely B lymphocytes and T lymphocytes. These are also called B cells and T cells respectively. Other important components of the lymphatic system include the tonsils, spleen, bone marrow and the thymus.

There are various other parts of the body apart from these structures that possess lymphatic tissues including the skin, stomach and intestines. The entire lymphatic system and all its components are an integral part of the immune system of the body. According to the American Cancer Society, there are about 63,000 newly diagnosed patients of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma every single year. 50% of all the non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma cases are seen in children. It is important to note that the non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma that affects children is different from the one that is found in adults.

Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma facts:

Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma is the 5th most common cancer in the Unites States of America. This estimate excludes the non-melanoma skin tumors. Most of the cases of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma are seen in patients over the age of 65. It is also a fact that non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma affects men more commonly as compared to women. It is also more commonly seen in the Asian and African American races in contrast to Caucasian Americans. The 5 year survival rate for this type of cancer is about 60%, but the rate of survival is entirely dependent upon the stage of cancer when it is diagnosed and the subtype of the lymphoma.

Individuals having a compromised or weakened immune system as a result of conditions such as HIV (human immunodeficiency virus), autoimmune diseases, and also patients having a history of organ transplantation are at a greater risk of developing non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma as compared to the healthy population2. It is also important to understand that there are numerous cases of non-Hodgkin’s disease which may or may not be associated with a single risk factor or causative agent which may have contributed to the development or progress of the cancer.

Development of Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma:

The origin of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma may either be from the B lymphocytes or the T lymphocytes found in the lymph nodes. It is critical to understand that non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma must not be confused or compared with Hodgkin’s disease because they differ in a number of important ways. Hodgkin’s disease is a cancer which originates from the lymphatic tissues of the body. Non-Hodgkin’s lymphomas have a rather complicated classification. Based on the advancements in research that have been carried out for NHL within the past years, there have been a number of changes in the classification over time. This indicates an improvement in the overall understanding of all the generic and chemical characteristics involved in its growth and development.

There are at least 30 types of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. All these types have their own characteristics appearances, genetic features, immunologic features and patterns of growth. Most of the lymphomas are either known as B cell or T cell lymphomas based on the form of lymphocyte from which they originated. According to their growth patterns, non-Hodgkin’s lymphomas can also be classified as either indolent or aggressive lymphomas. Indolent lymphomas are low grade lymphomas which develop and spread at a slow pace, whereas the aggressive lymphomas are ones that spread and progress at a rapid rate and need immediate treatment. It is a fact that aggressive lymphomas are much easier to manage in terms of cure than indolent lymphomas, because indolent forms have the ability to transform to the aggressive phase at any given point. This type of cancer affects adults more than children. Children are mostly affected by Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

Diagnosis:

Out of all the types of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, the one that is diagnosed most frequently in the United States of America is the diffuse large B lymphocyte lymphoma. It is a form of aggressive lymphoma which starts either in the lymphatic tissues or the lymph nodes related to the skin, gastrointestinal tract, breast, testicles, central nervous system, thyroid or bones. The second most frequently diagnosed NHL is the follicular lymphoma which is of the indolent type. This type of lymphoma starts from the B lymphocytes and can occur at multiple lymph node locations in the entire body, along with the bone marrow. Early detection and diagnosis of the condition is crucial for good prognosis. Once diagnosed, treatment is usually with chemotherapy to aggressively target the cancerous cells and eliminate them.

[1] www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/types/non-hodgkin

[2] www.mayoclinic.com/health/non-hodgkins-lymphoma/DS00350

 

Additional Resources:

The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. The Lymphomas. This booklet offers a general overview, of Hodgkin’s and non-Hodgkin’s lymphomas that is relevant to adults and children. Topics covered include blood and marrow components, the lymphatic system, and classification of lymphomas. An easy -to-read version of this publication is titled The Lymphomas: A Guide for Patients and Their Families. Larger print and bullet points summarize the topic in a concise manner.

Lymphoma Research Foundation. Lymphoma Resource Guide. A listing of  organizations, online resources, audio and videotapes, publications, and therapies that are of interest to Lymphoma patients and families. Access at: www.lymphoma.org

Understanding Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma: A Guide for Patients. This 100-page booklet provides a comprehensive review of NHL, including diagnosis, treatment, coping with side ffects, clinical trial experimental treatments, and  living with cancer. Includes a glossary. Individual copies are free and can be obtained by calling the Lymphoma Research Foundation at: 800-500-9976.

National Cancer Institute.  You Need to Know about Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. A concise introduction to non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma covering staging, treatment options, and emotional support. Includes a glossary and a list of questions for the doctor.

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