As the news recently revealed, Paul Allen, co-founder of Apple recently passed away from non-hodgkin lymphoma at age 65, much too young to die.
Coincidently, I talked with the receptionist at my doctor’s office with stage IV lymphoma, and she had a smile while working. She told me she was being treated, and she still had hope for a cure due to clinical trials. What impressed me the most was her beauty, smile and attitude. She told me she would go when the good Lord was ready.
I was at the doctor to complain about some problems, and her attitude made me feel my complaints were petty.
Lymphoma is a type of serious cancer. It is often not found until it is in an advanced stage; the average age for diagnosis is 39. It is the most frequently diagnosed cancer for teens from 15-19.
Treatments have improved, and even with stage 4 there are treatments, plus hope for a cure in the not too distant future. You have a 1 in 47 chance of ever acquiring this type of cancer, but it is one of the more common cancers.
In 2018, the American Cancer Society states that approximately “4,680 people (41,730 males and 32,950 females)” will get this non-Hodgkin Lymphoma (NHL) with an estimated 19,910 deaths.
The better news is that as estimated 845,076 US citizens are in remission or living with treatable lymphomas, which breaks down as:
- 653,653 patients are in remission or living with non-Hodgkin lymphoma
- 191,423 patients are in remission or living with Hodgkin lymphoma
The survival between 2007 to 2013 has increased by 88.3% for all races, while the 5 year survival rate has increased by 77.3%. Rates for survival are similar in most of the European countries and in other continents.
Most Common Symptoms
While symptoms of lymphoma are difficult to diagnose, it is important to see a doctor if you have a persistent swelling of a lymph node. There are two types of lymphoma, which is Hodgkin's lymphoma (formerly called Hodgkin's disease) and Non-Hodgkin's lymphoma.
Symptoms to watch include:
- Enlarged or swollen lymph nodes in the neck, underarms or groin
- Swollen abdomen (stomach)
- Drenching night sweats
- Fever, chills
- Feeling tired all the time
- Unexplained weight loss
- Decreased appetite- feeling full after eating a small amount
- Generalized itching
- Coughing, shortness of breath
- Chest pain or pressure
The Symptoms of Lymphoma
Lymphoma Changes in the Body
This disease begins in the immune system (the infection fighting cells), which are called lymphocytes. The cells are located in the thymus, bone marrow, lymph nodes and even in other parts of the body. These cells actually change and can become out of control quickly.
Unfortunately, if there is a painless swelling in one area of the body it is often ignored. There are no widely accepted screening tests for lymphoma. Looking for an unusual swelling and getting regular checkups with the doctor is the best defense.
Lymph Nodes & Swollen Glands - Andrew Alexander MD
Diagnosis of Lymphoma
A family history and medical exam begin the process. If you have a swollen lymph node, a biopsy is next. The node is close to the skin and excisional biopsy removes the whole lymph node. An incisional biopsy removes a small portion of the lymph node. A bone marrow aspiration or biopsy is also possible. Biopsies look for a variety of unhealthy cells.
Imaging tests may include chest x-rays, CAT scans, Pet scans or MRI’s. Blood tests include a CBC, liver function, kidney function, HIV and hepatitis tests. Lung function tests and an echocardiogram of the heart may also be ordered.
When you have exhausted all possibilites, remember this: You haven't.
Possible Causes of Lymphoma
Doctors aren't sure what causes lymphoma. A mutation occurs that cause several diseased lymphocytes to multiply quickly. The mutation may quickly allow the lymphocytes to live while healthy cells die. The unhealthy cells in the lymph nodes will cause lymph nodes to swell.
Difference Between Lymphoma Types
Lymphomas begin in a “subset of white blood cells called lymphocytes”. Lymphocytes are a component of the white blood cells, which fight off infections. The difference between Hodgkin and non-Hodgkin lymphoma depends on the type of lymphocyte that attacks. A doctor can confirm this diagnosis using a microscope to look at the cells.
If the Reed-Sternberg cell is seen, it confirms Hodgkin lymphoma, and its absence confirms non-Hodgkin lymphoma. In addition, there are several specific subtypes. A diagnosis takes a few days, and the treatment course is quite different for each type of lymphoma.
Types of Lymphomas
According to the Mayo Clinic there are several types of lymphomas.
- Chronic lymphocytic leukemia
- Cutaneous B-cell lymphoma
- Cutaneous T-cell lymphoma
- Hodgkin’s lymphoma (Hodgkin’s disease)
- Non-hodgkin’s lymphoma
- Waldenstrom macroglobulinemia
Comment From Cancer Survivor
Stages of Lymphomas
Lymphomas are typically staged using Roman numerals (I-IV).
- Stage I is diagnosed when only 1 lymph node is found or if the cancer is found in 1 part of an organ outside the lymph system.
- Stage II is diagnosed when 2 or more lymph nodes are found above the diaphragm (muscle below the lungs) or if the cancer extends from a lymph node to an organ.
- Stage III is diagnosed when lymph nodes are found above and below the diaphragm or when the lymph nodes affected are above the the diaphragm and in the spleen.
- Stage IV means that one organ outside of the lymphatic system is affected, such as the bone marrow, liver or the lungs.
Treatment of Lymphomas
Stage I and II may not need treatment if they are slow growing (indolent) cells. No signs or symptoms may mean no treatment for years. Treatments have more side effects than the "wait and see" approach with regular check-ups.
Stage III and IV lymphomas with signs and symptoms may be treated in a variety of ways.
- Chemotherapy for non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma with aggressive symptoms may be given by an oral or injection route, plus combined with other treatments.
- Radiation therapy with high-powered beams (X-rays or protons) will focus on a specific area of the body. Typically this means hospital trips 5 days weekly for 30 minutes.
- Bone marrow transplants (stem cell transplants) will follow strong chemotherapy and radiation to suppress the bone marrow prior to the transplant.
- One drug therapy includes a biological therapy known as Rituxan (rituximab) that attaches to B cells. This medication ultimately replaces diseased B cells with healthy ones. The diseased B cells are less likely to reoccur.
- The Food and Drug Administration recently approved Imbruvica (ibrutinib) for non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma that attaches to cancer cells, therefore, making radiation able to directly target the cancer cells.
Clinical trials are ongoing in many facilities, which offer an option for some patients.
Top 7 Herbal Treatments for Lymphoma
There are some studies that state green tea consumption actually can help fight this disease as it has EGCG. Helpful suggestions include: using relaxation techniques exercise, yoga, meditation and massage therapy.
Of course, there can be complications with any treatment or even any medication you are taking. The most important message to receive from this article is to get any unusual swelling evaluated by a physician.
© 2018 Pamela Oglesby