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Radiation Therapy for Hodgkin's Lymphoma

Facts About Hodgkin's Lymphoma

The lymphatic system is a network of thin tubular vessels that branches out to almost all parts of the body.  Scattered in between these vessels are lymph nodes.  The job of the lymphatic system is to fight infection and disease.  Cancer of the lymphatic system is called lymphoma.  Hodgkin's is one of two main types of lymphoma with non-Hodgkin's being the other.

  • Hodgkin's lymphoma (Hodgkin's 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.
  • It's named after the British doctor Thomas Hodgkin who first described the disease in 1832.  According to the American Cancer Society, nearly 64,000 new cases of lymphoma will be diagnosed this year.  This includes 7,350 cases of Hodgkin's lymphoma.
  • Hodgkin's lymphoma is very treatable and often curable.  Eighty-five percent of patients with Hodgkin's live longer than five years after diagnosis.

Risk Factors for Hodgkin's Lymphoma

The cause of Hodgkin's lymphoma is unknown.  However, doctors believe immune system problems as well as age may increase a person's chance of developing this disease.

  • Hodgkin's lymphoma has two peak time frames: 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 Hodgkin's lymphoma.
  • Those who have been infected with the Epstein-Barr virus are more likely to develop Hodgkin's lymphoma.
  • Having a parent or sibling with Hodgkin's lymphoma also increases risk of the disease.

Signs and Symptoms of Hodgkin's Lymphoma

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 symptoms.  Ask your doctor about their significance in your case.

Diagnosing Hodgkin's Lymphoma

To see if you have Hodgkin's 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.

Staging of Hodgkin's Lymphoma

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.