Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma (NHL) is a form of cancer that originates in the lymphatic system, which is the disease-fighting network that reaches throughout the entire body.  It involves the presence of cancerous cells in the lymph nodes, but it can spread to other areas in the lymphatic system, and occasionally to areas outside of that system. Numerous subtypes of NHL exist, and they are grouped in two categories. First, the aggressive form: these types grow and spread rapidly and can cause severe symptoms.  Second, there is the non-aggressive form: it is termed as indolent or low-grade, and grows and spreads gradually, causing few symptoms in patients. 

Normally, a healthy lymphatic system goes through a predictable cycle; new white blood cells are created as the old ones die off. However, when your body produces the cells and they don’t die, it results in NHL. Instead of dying off, cells continue to grow and divide, and this oversupply of cells crowds into the lymph nodes (and sometimes other parts in the lymphatic system), causing them to swell.  There are two types of cells: B cells fight infection by producing antibodies that kill foreign invaders, while T cells kill the foreign invaders directly.  

The direct cause is unknown, though doctors have discovered some possible risk factors. One factor is immune-suppressing drugs. Those who have had an organ transplant are susceptible because of the immunosuppressive drug therapy that reduces the body’s ability to fight off diseases. Certain viruses and bacteria that cause infection can also be a factor, such as HIV, Hepatitis C, and Epstein Barr. Lastly, age is a factor.  While NHL can develop at any age, those who are older are at a higher risk.

Treatment is based on the type and stage of the lymphoma, the patient’s age, and their overall health. Typical treatment of aggressive NHL includes chemotherapy, radiation, or a bone marrow transplant. Doctors initially try the first two treatments, but sometimes a bone marrow transplant provides the only possibility for survival and can provide the best chance for a patient to have long-term remission.

In some cases, immediate treatment may not be necessary. If the type a patient has is slow-growing, the doctor may opt for the “wait and see” approach.  If the patient delays treatment, they won’t be on their own; the doctor will schedule regular checkups to make sure the cancer isn’t advancing or spreading. Whether a patient has an aggressive or non-aggressive form of Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, help and support is always available. For more information on Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, please visit the National Institutes of Health http://health.nih.gov/topic/NonHodgkinsLymphoma

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