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Non-Hodgkin lymphoma: Understanding the symptoms and treatment

  • Posted on- Jul 08, 2015
  • 5052 Views

Non-Hodgkin lymphoma is a type of cancer that forms in the lymphatic system, which is a network of vessels and glands spread throughout your body. The lymphatic system is part of your immune system where lymph flows through the lymphatic vessels and contains white blood cells known as lymphocytes.

When a person is suffering from non-Hodgkin lymphoma, the affected lymphocytes start to multiply in an abnormal way and begin to collect in the lymph nodes. This results in lymphocytes losing their fighting abilities, making you more susceptible to infection.

Signs and symptoms of non-Hodgkin lymphoma

The most common sign of non-Hodgkin lymphoma is a painless swelling in a lymph node, normally in the neck, armpit or groin. The swelling is the result of excess of affected lymphocytes collecting in a lymph node. However, inflamed lymph nodes may not necessarily mean you have non-Hodgkin lymphoma. It may be because of other medical condition. Some of the general symptoms of non-Hodgkin lymphoma include:

Sometimes non-Hodgkin lymphoma can start in the abdomen or chest causing bloating, coughing, difficulty breathing, respectively.

Tests and diagnosis of non-Hodgkin lymphoma

If your oncologist suspects you of non-Hodgkin lymphoma, he may perform a physical examination to check your lymph nodes for swelling. He/She may suggest different tests and procedures in order to diagnose non-Hodgkin lymphoma:
  • Blood tests: Your doctor will take a specimen of your blood to check the functionality of kidney and liver. These organs get affected when suffering from a lymphoma. Blood samples are also taken regularly to check the levels of red blood cells, white blood cells and platelets.
  • Computerised tomography (CT) scan: A CT scan is a procedure that uses X-rays to take pictures of the inside of your body.
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI): It is the least common procedure used to detect non-Hodgkin lymphoma. MRI scan uses magnetism and radio waves to create detailed cross-section pictures of the body.
  • Gallium scan: A gallium scan is a rare diagnostic test. Gallium is a radioactive substance which is injected into a vein in your arm. Slowly, gallium accumulates in areas of enlarged, abnormal lymph nodes.
  • Lumbar puncture (spinal tap): A lumbar puncture test enables the doctor to examine the spinal fluid to determine if the cancer has affected your central nervous system.

Treatment options for non-Hodgkin lymphoma

The right treatment for non-Hodgkin lymphoma depends on various options including your general health and age, symptoms, type of lymphoma and more. Following are some of the best available treatments for non-Hodgkin lymphoma:
  • Chemotherapy: Chemotherapy is extensively used treatment for non-Hodgkin lymphoma, which involves using anti-cancer drugs to kill cancer cells. It may be given in combination with biological therapy or radiation therapy.
  • Radiotherapy: Radiotherapy is a commonly used for the treatment of non-Hodgkin lymphoma, which involves using high energy rays focusing on the tumour to kill cancer cells. It may be given externally or internally.
  • Biological therapy or Immunotherapy: In a biological therapy, medications are given that attach to the surface of cancerous cells and prompt the immune system to attack and kill the cells.
  • Steroid Medication: Steroid medicines are usually given along with chemotherapy to treat non-Hodgkin lymphoma. This is because research has shown that using steroids makes the chemotherapy more effective.

Follow-up is necessary after your treatment ends. It is to monitor your recovery and check for any signs of the cancer returning.