According to statistics from the World Health Organization, almost 10 million people died from lymphomas in 2020. These figures illustrate the seriousness and global impact of this disease.
This type of cancer attacks the lymphatic system, its most common variant being non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, which accounts for approximately 90% of cases.
Survival rates after undergoing rigorous treatments, such as chemotherapy, radiotherapy and drug administration, are very encouraging indeed.
The subject of lymphomas, from a medical perspective, is explored further below.
What is lymphoma?
Lymphoma is a cancer of the lymphatic tissue, characterized by the formation of solid tumors in the immune system. It usually affects lymphocytes, which are a type of white blood cell.
Lymphoma is one of the three major groups of blood cancers, along with leukemia and myeloma.
According to the National Cancer Institute in the United States, there are an estimated 20 cases of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma per 100,000 people among Americans. While in Spain, 10,582 people were diagnosed with this pathology in 2021 alone.
Worldwide statistics indicate that more than 735,000 people are diagnosed with lymphoma each year, according to data from the Lymphoma Coalition, a global network of support for lymphoma patients, made up of 80 organizations from more than 50 countries.
What types of lymphoma are there?
Cancer of the lymphatic system is usually classified according to the type of immune cells affected.
The two main types are Hodgkin’s lymphoma and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. This name is due to the fact that it was discovered in 1832 by the British pathologist Thomas Hodgkin.
The main characteristics of Hodgkin’s lymphoma is its systematic spread from one group of lymph nodes to others, where the cancerous cells are an abnormal type of B lymphocytes.
In contrast, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, the most common, spreads haphazardly through the lymphatic system. It usually affects B cells and T cells, types of lymphocytes that are key to the activation of immunity.
What causes lymphoma to occur?
The Leukemia and Lymphoma Association of America states that “lymphoma is a consequence of a lesion in the DNA of a lymphocyte, which is a type of white blood cell, the ones responsible for defending us against infections”.
This lesion turns the lymphocyte into a lymphoma cell, which in turn agglomerates to form masses of cells that lodge in the lymph nodes.
Dr. Carla Casulo, director of the Lymphoma Service Program at the Wilmot Cancer Institute at the University of Rochester, New York, in the United States, illustrates the scope of lymphoma by saying, “Let’s assume that the body is like a house and leukemia affects the whole house, while lymphoma affects one room. In one place, one part of the body, which is the lymph nodes.”
As with most cancers, the origin of lymphomas is still being studied. However, medical researchers have identified certain risk factors that make a person more susceptible to developing it, as we will see below.
What are the risk factors for lymphoma?
The risk factors that lead to the development of Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma are:
Occurring in people over the age of 60.
Use of agricultural chemicals, such as certain herbicides and insecticides.
Exposure to nuclear radiation.
Some viral and bacterial infections increase the risk of developing lymphoma, such as infectious mononucleosis.
Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma is more common in developed countries, with the United States and Europe having the highest rates.
People with a weakened immune system, such as organ transplant recipients and HIV patients.
Autoimmune diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis, systemic lupus erythematosus and celiac disease.
What are the symptoms of lymphoma?
The most recognizable symptom of lymphoma is swollen lymph nodes in the neck, armpits, groin and abdomen.
However, there are other symptoms that may indicate the presence of this type of blood cancer, such as:
Sudden weight loss
Swelling in legs and ankles
Excessive night sweats
Loss of energy
Diagnosis of lymphoma
The healthcare professional examines the areas where there are swollen lymph nodes and if there is a suspicion of lymphoma, may order a biopsy to confirm or rule out. He or she may opt for an excisional biopsy, where a lymph node is completely removed for analysis, or an incisional biopsy, where only a portion of the suspected lymph tumor is removed.
Other tests that may be ordered as diagnostic methods are:
Bone marrow biopsy. In order to determine if there are traces of lymphoma in the sample.
Blood tests. Such as complete blood count, white blood cell count, liver function tests and kidney function tests.
CT scan. The chest, abdomen and pelvis are scanned for lymphomas.
Magnetic resonance imaging. This allows detailed images of the tumor tissues to be observed.
What treatment does lymphoma require?
The treatment of Hodgkin’s lymphoma depends on the grade of the cancer. In its initial phase, it requires short periods of chemotherapy, followed by localized radiotherapy to treat the affected lymph nodes. In its advanced stages, on the other hand, it requires combinations of chemotherapy to reduce the extent of the tumor.
On the other hand, some immunomodulatory agents such as thalidomide and lenalidomide are used to treat non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
In a very low proportion, some cases of lymphoma are treated by stem cell transplantation.
In conclusion, World Lymphoma Day is celebrated every September 15, however, it is not necessary to wait for that day to raise awareness about the seriousness of this condition. Fortunately, most patients with this type of cancer can be cured with the help of professionals and effective medical treatments.