Lymphoma CancerCancer » Lymphoma Cancer
One of the most important organ systems of the human body is the lymphatic or lymphoid system, which is a network of node-like structures located throughout the body. This system helps filter out bacteria and plays an important role in fighting diseases. Lymphoma is a cancer in the lymphatic cells of the immune system. Typically, lymphoma present as a solid tumor of lymphoid cells. Lymphatic tissues include the lymph nodes (also called lymph glands), thymus, spleen, tonsils, adenoids, and bone marrow, as well as the channels (called lymphatics or lymph vessels) that connect them.
Although many types of cancer eventually spread to parts of the lymphatic system, lymphomas are distinct because they actually originate there. Cancer cells in lymphoma mainly gather in lymph nodes-small structures present along blood vessels. As the cancer cells grow and multiply, the lymph nodes enlarge and form lumps. Most of the time, this cancer is detected as painless lumps in the neck, armpits or groin. Lymphoma can also affect other organs of the body (besides lymph nodes) and give rise to a variety of symptoms that bring an individual to a doctor.
Lymphoma Cancer Types
Lymphoma is not a single cancer. There are two main groups-Hodgkin's lymphoma and non-Hodgkin's lymphoma (NHL). There are many different types of both Hodgkin's lymphoma and NHL. In total, there are nearly 30 different types of lymphoma, some common and some rare. Some lymphomas are very different from others. In most cases the type of lymphoma is less important than the grade and stage of a particular lymphoma. The different categories of lymphoma cancer can seem very complicated, but they are based on:
- The appearance or histology of the cancer cells under a microscope.
- What kinds of genetic mutations they carry.
- Whether they form tight clusters (nodular) or are spread throughout a lymph node or other organ of the body (diffuse).
- What type of cell they arose from?
- Where they occur in the body?
- What types of proteins the lymphoma cells have on other surface.
Lymphoma Cancer Causes
The causes of lymphoma cancer are not well known. DNA mutations cause lymphoma to develop but what triggers these mutations is largely unknown. Family history does not provide much of a clue; except in the case of some rare forms, lymphoma cancer does not appear to be linked to genetic inheritance. Most are probably caused by mutations in certain genes, called oncogenes, which then allow normal cells to divide out of control. Following factors may increase a person's risk of getting lymphoma cancer:
- Exposure to chemicals such as certain solvents, pesticides, herbicides, and water contaminated with nitrate.
- Taking drugs that suppress the immune system.
- Having an autoimmune disease, such as lupus or rheumatoid arthritis.
- Having stomach ulcers or gastritis caused by a kind of bacteria called H. pyelori.
- Having a weakened immune system.
- Having one of the viruses that may increase risk for some types of lymphoma.
- Immunosuppressant drugs.
Lymphoma Cancer Symptoms
Lymphoma also compromises the immune system of a person, as a can hinder the lymph nodes from performing their function, which is primarily to help the body defend itself against disease. The symptoms of this disease are sometimes hard to determine because some of its symptoms also occurs in non-cancer patients. One such symptom is an inflamed or enlarged lymph node, which could also mean that the body is just suffering from an infection. Following are some symptoms given:
- Fever of unknown origin
- Night sweats
- Weight loss, chills
- Moderate and severe itching
- Red patches on the skin
- Nausea, vomiting, or abdominal pain
- Coughing or breathlessness
Lymphoma Cancer Diagnosis
Lymphoma cancer is diagnosed through:
- Physical exam: If a person has symptoms of lymphoma cancer or notices a lump or swelling, the doctor will perform a complete physical exam. This includes checking the lymph nodes in the neck, armpit or groin, and checking for an enlarged liver or spleen. The doctor will ask about recent illness or infections, and overall health.
- Blood tests: Blood tests may rule out infections and other types of disease. The blood will also check to see if cancer cells or cancer related enzymes are present. Other factors in the blood, such as anemia may be looked at. These tests may also provide information on how far the cancer has spread
- Imaging tests: The doctor will probably order imaging tests that can view inside the body, such as- x-rays, CT scan, MRI scan, and lymphangiogram (a test using a special dye that makes the lymph nodes and vessels show up on an x-ray).
- Biopsy: A biopsy tells whether a lump or swollen gland is truly a lymphoma.
Lymphoma cancer Treatments
Treatment for lymphoma cancer depends on the type and stage. Factors such as age, overall health, and whether one has already treated for lymphoma before are included in the treatment decision making process. The decision of which treatment to pursue is made with the doctor and family members, but the decision is ultimately the patient's. The combination of drugs and therapies used will depend on the type of lymphoma cancer. The methods used for the treatment of lymphoma cancer include:
- Chemotherapy and Radiation therapy: Chemotherapy is the use of drugs to kill cancer cells. Chemotherapy for non-Hodgkin's lymphoma usually includes a combination of several drugs. Radiation therapy uses high-energy x-rays to kill cancer cells and shrink tumors. Chemotherapy and Radiation therapy are the most common treatments for non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. Because of the risk that a lymphoma has spread beyond the original tumor, surgery alone isn't usually enough. Chemotherapy is called a systematic treatment because the drugs travel throughout the body. This means that even those cancer cells have not yet been found may be killed. Patients may receive chemotherapy alone or in combination with radiation therapy.
- Bone Marrow Transplant: One form of chemotherapy, called high-dose chemotherapy (HDCT), uses very high doses of toxic drugs to kill all possible tumor cells. Because these high doses also kill most of the bone marrow, patients are then given a bone marrow transplant to restore their ability to make new red and white blood cells. Bone marrow may be taken from the patient before chemotherapy begins and given back to the patient after treatment is done. Or, bone marrow from another person may be used.
- Biological therapy: This therapy is also called biological response modifier therapy (BRMT), uses chemicals made by the body's own cells in order to activate the body's defenses against cancer. Many biological therapies are still experimental, but research is being done to develop and improve them. Scientists and doctors hope that they will soon be able to treat most forms of cancer using these therapies, combined with treatments like chemotherapy and radiation therapy. The different approaches to biological therapy include:
Immunotherapy: In one kind of immunotherapy, chemicals called cytokines are used to activate white blood cells. Sometimes, when the immune system is activated in this way, it will fight and kill tumor cells. Two cytokines being used are called interferon and interleukin. Antibodies are proteins that help white blood cells fight off viruses and bacteria. Antibodies bind to foreign invaders and signal the immune cells to attack. Monoclonal antibodies are antibodies that are made in the laboratory to bind to only one single type of molecule. Many cancer cells carry proteins called tumor antigens on their surface. Because cancer cells are usually the only ones to carry these proteins, tumor antigens make good targets. Researchers hope that monoclonal antibodies against these tumor antigens will bind to them and signal the immune system to attack the tumor cells. Another new immunotherapy is the use of tumor vaccines. In much the same way that a polio vaccine activates your immune system to fight off the virus if you are ever infected, tumor vaccines use a person's own tumor cells to activate the immune system to destroy the tumor.
Angiogenesis Inhibitors: These are chemicals that block the formation of new blood vessels. Tumors need to create a whole new blood supply in order to keep growing, so they cause new blood vessels to be formed.
Gene therapy: In gene therapy, pieces of DNA are placed into cells to correct something that has gone wrong with those cells, or to make the cells self destruct. Because most cancers are now known to result from damage to genes that keep cells from growing out of control, gene therapy of cancer cells may someday be able to correct the problem or force cancer cells to destroy themselves. Gene therapy for cancer is still highly experimental.
The most important objective must be to find the best possible treatment strategy for each individual patient. Cancer therapy according to the approach outlined here requires a great deal of experience on the part of the physician. Since cancer is a multi-factorial condition, treatment has to go beyond merely removing the tumor. Instead, multi-component treatment must be employed in an attempt to restore order to the disrupted regulatory cycles in the body because these disruptions appear to be a casual factor in tumor formation.