What is Hodgkins Lymphoma?
Hodgkin lymphoma is a type of cancer in the lymphatic system. The lymphatic system is part of the immune system and functions to fight disease and infections. The lymphatic system also helps maintain the fluid balance in different parts of the body by bringing excess fluid back into the bloodstream. Hodgkins is one of two main types of lymphoma with non-Hodgkins being the other.
Hodgkins lymphoma (Hodgkins disease) commonly affects lymph nodes in the neck or in the area between the lungs behind the breastbone. It can also begin in groups of lymph nodes under the arms, in the abdomen or in the groin.
Hodgkins lymphoma is very treatable and often curable. Eighty-five percent of patients with Hodgkins live longer than five years after diagnosis.
To see if you have Hodgkins lymphoma, your doctor will first examine you to assess your overall health and look for anything unusual. He or she may also perform some or all of the following tests.
The doctor will order blood tests to evaluate a variety of factors, including the number of blood cells in your blood and how well your liver and kidneys are working.
During a lymph node biopsy, your doctor will perform surgery to take out a lymph node. It will then be examined under a microscope to look for cancer.
Several imaging tests will be performed to see if lymphoma has spread to other organs. These tests may include CT, PET or gallium scans.
The cause of Hodgkins lymphoma is unknown. However, doctors believe immune system problems as well as age may increase a person's chance of developing this disease.
- Hodgkins lymphoma has two peak periods: between the ages of 15 and 40 and in people over age 55. However, the disease can affect anyone.
- Males are typically more at risk of developing Hodgkins lymphoma.
- Those who have been infected with the Epstein-Barr virus are more likely to develop Hodgkins lymphoma.
- Having a parent or sibling with Hodgkins lymphoma also increases risk of the disease.
Signs and Symptoms
The signs and symptoms of lymphoma are not specific and may also be associated with other, noncancerous conditions. Talk to your doctor if you have any of these problems.
- Swollen lymph nodes in the neck, underarm or groin
- Unexplained fevers
- Drenching night sweats
- Unexplained weight loss
- Constant fatigue
- Skin rash or itchy skin
Unexplained fevers, night sweats and weight loss are known as “B” symptoms. Ask your doctor about their significance in your case.
Staging and Treatment Options
Treatment options depend on the type of lymphoma, its stage and your overall health. Treatment may include chemotherapy or radiation therapy, either alone or in combination. It may help to talk to several cancer specialists before deciding on the best course of treatment for you, your cancer and your lifestyle.
A radiation oncologist is a doctor who specializes in destroying cancer cells with high energy X-rays or other types of radiation.
A medical oncologist is a doctor who is an expert at prescribing special drugs (chemotherapy) to treat cancer. Some medical oncologists are also hematologists, meaning they have experience treating blood problems.
The stage of cancer is a term used to describe its size and whether it has spread. Knowing this helps doctors plan the best treatment.
- Stage I: Single lymph node or non-lymph node region is affected.
- Stage II: Two or more lymph node or non-lymph node regions are affected on the same side of the diaphragm (the muscle under the lungs).
- Stage III: Lymph node or non-lymph node regions above and below the diaphragm are affected.
- Stage IV: The cancer has spread outside the lymph nodes to organs such as the liver, bones or lungs. Stage IV can also refer to a tumor in another organ and/or tumors in distant lymph nodes.