LYMPHOMA

Lymphoma is cancer that begins in the cells of the lymph system, which is part of the body’s immune system. In addition to the thymus, tonsils and bone marrow, the lymph system is largely comprised of:

  • Lymph – Colorless, watery fluid that carries lymphocytes (a type of white blood cell) through the lymph system.
  • Lymph vessels – A network of thin tubes that collect lymph from different parts of the body and return it to the bloodstream.
  • Lymph nodes – Small, bean-shaped structures that are found throughout the body, particularly in clusters in the neck, underarm, abdomen, pelvis and groin. These structures filter lymph and store white bloods cells that help fight infection and disease.

Types of Lymphoma

There are two main types of lymphoma, both of which can occur in children and adults:

  • Hodgkin lymphoma – Most people with Hodgkin lymphoma have the classic type, which occurs when there are large, abnormal lymphocytes in the lymph nodes called Reed-Sternberg cells.
  • Non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL) – This type of lymphoma actually refers to a group of cancers in the lymphatic system that can have different symptoms and treatments. NHL most often begins in the lymph nodes, spleen, liver or bone marrow.
    • There are three main types of childhood non-Hodgkin lymphoma, which include:
      • Mature B-cell non-Hodgkin lymphoma
      • Lymphoblastic lymphoma
      • Anaplastic large cell lymphoma

Lymphoma Causes

Researchers don’t know specifically why lymphomas develop. But what is known is that lymphomas affect the cells in the lymphatic system—B lymphocytes (B cells) and T lymphocytes (T cells). Damage to genes in these cells causes some of these cells to grow and divide quickly and inhibit other healthy white blood cells. The cancerous B and T cells then disrupt the overall health of the immune system, leaving the affected person more vulnerable to infections.

Risk factors that increase the likelihood of someone having lymphoma include:

  • Age, with older people being the most commonly diagnosed population
  • Being male
  • A family history of lymphoma
  • A weakened immune system caused by infections such as human immunodeficiency virus (HIV)
  • Certain autoimmune conditions, such as Hashimoto’s thyroiditis or celiac disease
  • Certain infections, such as those caused by the Epstein-Barr virus and Helicobacter pylori bacteria

Lymphoma Symptoms

The symptoms of lymphoma will depend on the affected area of the body. While symptoms can vary between Hodgkin lymphoma and non-Hodgkin lymphoma, as well as among adults and children, general symptoms may include:

  • Painless, swollen lymph nodes in the neck, underarms or groin
  • Unexplained fever
  • Night sweats
  • Unexplained weight loss over the course of 6 months
  • Fatigue
  • Itchy skin, especially after drinking alcohol or bathing
  • Shortness of breath

Diagnosing Lymphoma

To diagnose lymphoma, a cancer specialist will perform:

  • A physical examination
  • A lymph node and/or bone marrow biopsy to look for lymphoma cells
  • Blood tests
  • Imaging tests, such as an MRI or PET scan

Treatments for Lymphoma

The types of treatments that the cancer experts at Tampa General Hospital’s Cancer Institute recommend to lymphoma patients will depend on the type and stage of the cancer, a patient’s overall health and personal preferences. In general, treatments may include:

  • A “watch and wait” approach
  • Chemotherapy
  • Radiation therapy
  • Immunotherapy, such as chimeric antigen receptor (CAR)-T cell therapy
  • Targeted therapy, such as monoclonal antibody therapy
  • Bone marrow transplant

In some cases, patients treated at TGH may be eligible for groundbreaking clinical trials and have access to new treatments.