Discover how you can detect lymphoma in the early stages of the disease.

Lymphoma is cancer of the lymphatic system and is the sixth most common cancer in the United States.  The lymphatic system is the network of tissues and organs that store and carry immune cells, such as lymphocytes (a type of white blood cell), and these cells help defend your body against disease.  The lymph nodes are where the body mounts its defense to fight infection.

Lymphoma is divided into two groups: Non-Hodgekin's Lymphoma (NHL) and Hodgekin's Lymphoma.  The distinction is the presence of Reed-Sternberg cells in the cancerous tissue.  Hodgekin's Lymphoma has Reed-Sternberg cells while Non-Hodgekin's Lymphoma does not have them.

The cure rate is 75% to 95% when cancer is detected in the early stage of the disease.  Non-Hodgekin's Lymphoma occurs in about 66,000 new patients every year in the United States and there are between 400,000 and 500,000 patients with NHL in the United States. The key to surviving lymphoma is early detection.  

The low grade form of lymphoma progresses slowly and it may take many years before this disease gets worse or even requires treatment.  The goal is to detect lymphoma before it spreads through the lymphatic system to other parts of the body, particularly the bone marrow or spinal cord.

What are the signs and symptoms of lymphoma?

The classic presentation of lymphoma is a lump or mass in the lymph nodes, typically in the neck, arm pit or groin.  The larger the mass, the more worrisome it is.  Any painless, firm lumps or masses on your neck, arm pit or groin should be examined by a physician.  The key to beating lymphoma is treating the cancer before it spreads beyond its original site.

There are other symptoms of lymphoma, such as an unexplained loss of weight of more than 15 pounds in less than two months, nausea, vomiting, anemia (loss of red blood cells).  However, such symptoms are often present only when the lymphoma has spread beyond its original location and hence, treatment is more difficult.

What can be done if you suspect lymphoma

The first step is a careful physical examination of the mass by your doctor. This lump in the lymph nodes is due to the increasing number of malignant cells that accumulate in the lymph nodes.   The tumor will spread on to the next lymph node before proceeding to the other.  The physician will pay attention to the size, location, tenderness and firmness of the swollen lymph nodes, and will examine other lymphatic sites for possible spread of the cancer.  

If you have enlarged lymph nodes, the second step is a biopsy of the mass.  A biopsy will give you a definitive answer as to whether the mass contains malignant cancer cells. 

If the biopsy reveals cancer cells, you should then undergo imaging studies, such as a CT, MRI or PET scan of your entire body to determine if the tumor has spread to other parts of your body.  A CT scan of the chest, abdomen and/or pelvis will reveal whether the lymphoma has spread to those areas of the body, and a "whole-body PET scan" will show whether there are areas of the body with increased metabolic activity consistent with the presence of cancer.

How you can determine the "stage" of the lymphoma

The most important factor in the treatment of lymphoma is the stage and grade of the disease.  The bigger your mass and the more it has spread, the worse the outcome will be.  The "staging" of the cancer will indicate how the cancer has spread.  The number and regions of lymph nodes affected and whether only one or both sides of the diaphragm are involved are important factors.

Stage 1 lymphoma is the earliest stage of the disease, where the disease is present only in a single lymph node or lymph node region. Stage 2 lymphoma is the second earliest stage of the disease; the disease (i.e., cancerous cells) are present in two or more lymph node regions on the same side of the diaphragm.

Stage 3 and Stage 4 lymphoma are the advanced stages of this cancer.  Stage 3 lymphoma is disease on both sides of the diaphragm.  Stage 4 lymphoma involves cancer that is widespread, including multiple involvement at one or more extranodal sites (beyond the lymph nodes), such as the bone marrow (most common site), liver or pleura (lining of the lungs).

The goal is to detect lymphoma in Stage 1 or 2 before the cancer spreads beyond its original location.  You should ask your oncologist about the stage of the lymphoma and the site on your body where the cancer began, i.e., brain lymphoma, spleen lymphoma, etc.

How it lymphoma treated?

Standard first-line therapy for lymphoma is radiation therapy for most early stages lymphomas, or a combination of chemotherapy and radiation therapy.  For later stage lymphomas, chemotherapy is primarily used.

I welcome your phone call if you have any questions

If you have any questions or want additional information about lymphoma, I welcome your phone call on my toll-free cell phone at 866-889-6882 or you can request a FREE copy of my book, The Seven Deadly Mistakes of Malpractice Victims, at the home page of my website at www.protectingpatientrights.com