Non-Hodgkin's lymphoma is a type of cancer that affects the cells of the lymphatic system. The role of the lymphatic system is to fight disease and infection. Although it is a form of cancer that can start in almost any part of the body, it usually occurs in a lymph node in the neck. There are several different types of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. Not only do they develop and spread differently, but the cells also look different under the microscope.
Certain factors, such as a weakened immune system, autoimmune disorders and certain infections may increase a person's risk of developing this form of cancer. Other strong risk factors are age, as many cases are diagnosed in adults over the age of 60 years, and exposure to certain pesticides and solvents.
Symptoms and complications
By the time they are diagnosed, individuals with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma have, for the most part, experienced the following symptoms:
- Swollen lymph nodes (in the neck, underarms, groin)
- Unexplained weight loss
- Unexplained fatigue
- Unexplained fever
- Night sweats
- Stomach and intestinal pain
Having these symptoms does not necessarily mean that you have cancer. You should however, see your doctor since early detection and diagnosis can greatly improve prognosis.
As the disease progresses, the vast majority of patients develop anemia which causes fatigue and weakness.
A number of different tests and examinations are required to confirm a diagnosis of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. These include:
- Complete physical examination and blood tests
- Imaging studies
- Biopsies of the lymph nodes, bone marrow or other tissue
Prognosis varies and is based on age, stage and extent of the disease.
The type of lymphoma will influence treatment selection which may include one or several of the following treatments:
- Biological therapy
- Radiation therapy
- Stem cell transplantation
Unfortunately, nothing specific can be done to prevent non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. However, living a healthy lifestyle can help reduce one's risk of developing cancer:
- Eat healthy
- Avoid alcohol and tobacco
- Exercise regularly
- Maintain a healthy weight
- Avoid the use of pesticides and hazardous products at home and in the workplace
For more information or for support:
Canadian Cancer Society