Your lymphatic cells play an important role in your immune system, however, when lymphoma is present in the bloodstream, it can spread to other parts of the body easily. Early diagnosis and aggressive treatment is a key part of the best therapeutic outcomes.
What is lymphatic cancer?
Your lymphatic system is a network of organs and tissues designed to remove toxins from your body. You have lymph nodes throughout the body, which are part of a system that moves like your circulatory system. Lymphatic cancer, also called lymphoma, is a cancer of the lymphatic system. Because of the way that lymphatic cells move throughout the body, lymphatic cancers can metastasize easily.
Types of lymphatic cancer
Lymphatic cancers fall into two major categories: Hodgkin's lymphoma and non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, which is a general term for all other lymphatic cancers.
These two types have similar symptoms. However, they can be told from one another when studied during a tissue biopsy. Within these two general types, there are five different Hodgkin's lymphomas and around 30 non-Hodgkin's. Correct diagnosis is key; while the types seem similar, they respond to different therapies.
Causes of lymphatic cancer
The exact cause of lymphatic cancer is not yet clear. However, a number of factors have been associated with an elevated risk of developing lymphoma. Common risk factors include:
- Age. Your chances of developing lymphoma significantly increase as you get older. There are around 2.4 cases per 100,000 people in the 20 to 24 age group. In the 60 to 64 age group, that number rises to 46 in 100,000.
- HIV infection
- Epstein-Barr virus infection
- hepatitis B or C
- infection with Helicobacter pylori
Additionally, people who have autoimmune disorders are more likely to develop lymphoma, as are people who must take immunosuppressive medications.
Symptoms of lymphatic cancer
Typically, the first noticeable symptom of lymphoma is swelling in the lymph nodes in the groin, neck and under the arms. There may also be enlargement in tissues in other parts of the body; for instance, people with lymphoma may develop an enlarged spleen. The enlargement of the lymph nodes can cause other uncomfortable symptoms. People who are experiencing pressure against a nerve may feel numbness and tingling in a nearby limb, for instance.
Other symptoms may develop over time, including:
- unexplained and unintended weight loss
- itching in the lower extremities
- shortness of breath
- bone pain
Lymphatic cancer treatment
A combination of treatments is typically ordered to treat lymphoma. Chemotherapy and radiation may be paired for greater effectiveness. You may also be given antibody and biologic therapy. Your doctor may order biopsies to learn more about your lymphoma. Stem-cell transplantation can restore bone marrow that has been damaged by chemotherapy and radiation to restore your immune function and help you fight your lymphoma. When necessary, the spleen and other organs can be removed if the lymphoma has spread to them.
We center our practice around a trusting doctor-patient relationship. We are happy to answer your questions so that you understand your care. If you have been diagnosed with lymphoma, we will work with the rest of your care team to ensure the best therapeutic outcomes for you.