Lymphoma is a cancer of the part of the immune system called lymphocytes, which is a type of white blood cell. These lymphocytes travel in a network called the lymphatic channels that connect lymph nodes. The lymph nodes, lymphocytes, and the lymphatic channels form the lymphatic system, which is a part of the immune system. The lymphocytes are classified into two: the B lymphocytes or B cells and the T lymphocytes or T cells. Lymphoma occurs when there is an over production of defective B or T cells that could travel in the lymphatic channels and gather in large amounts in the lymph nodes. When this happens, the lymph nodes swell, which is a typical sign of lymphoma.
There are two major categories of lymphoma: the Hodgkin lymphoma or the Hodgkin's disease and all other types of lymphoma or the non-Hodgkin lymphomas. The two categories are the same in the sense that they are a form of cancer of the lymphocytes. But their similarity ends there. Hodgkin lymphoma forms from abnormal B cells and the non-Hodgkin lymphoma forms from either abnormal B or T cells. Furthermore, Hodgkin lymphoma has 5 subtypes, and non-Hodgkin lymphoma has about 30 subtypes.
The exact reason lymphoma develops is not known. However, there are known risk factors observed by doctors associated in most cases of lymphoma. Non-Hodgkin lymphoma seem to increase with age, and infections from HIV, human T-lymphocyte virus, Epstein-Barr virus, Hepatitis B and C virus, and Helicobacter pylori bacterium also increase the incidence of lymphoma. People with low immune system from pathogen infection, disease, or therapy are prone to develop the cancer. Moreover, prolong exposure to chemicals such as benzene, herbicides and pesticides, and solvents as well as black hair dye are associated with lymphoma development also.
The first symptoms of lymphoma include swelling of the lymph nodes in the neck, underarm, and the groin. The other lymph nodes of the body may also swell including the spleen. The swelling of the lymph nodes produce secondary symptoms such as pain, numbness, or tingling sensation due to pressure against a vein or a nerve. The inflamed spleen may also cause stomach pain. Patients may or may not experience fever, chills, weight loss, and malaise.
Lymphoma is often treated with chemotherapy and radiation therapy. Before the chemo, doctors may collect healthy stem cells from the patient's body to anticipate stem cell transplant in case of a relapse or should the need arises. Biotherapy using a monoclonal antibody, rituximab, which targets and destroys cancer cells, is often combined with chemotherapy. Interferon therapy is also an option to stop the progress of non-Hodgkin lymphoma.
To prevent lymphoma, doctors advise the avoidance of the risk factors such as chemical exposure and infection. Vaccination against hepatitis is also a good idea to lessen the incidence of hepatitis-related lymphoma. Practicing safe sex and strengthening the immune system are also helpful to ward off infection and fight off early development of cancer cells including lymphoma.