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Radiation Therapy for Non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma

Facts About Non-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 involving the lymphatic system is called lymphoma.  Non-Hodgkin's is one of two main types of lymphoma with Hodgkin's lymphoma (or Hodgkin's disease) being the other.

  • Non-Hodgkin's lymphoma (NHL) refers to a variety of cancers involving the lymph system.  Non-Hodgkin's lymphoma can begin in any part of the body, not just the lymph nodes.
  • According to the American Cancer Society, nearly 64,000 new cases of lymphoma will be diagnosed this year.
  • Survival rates vary widely by cell type and stage of disease.  More than 75 percent of patients with NHL live longer than a year after diagnosis; nearly 60 percent of patients live longer than five years.

Risk Factors for Non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma

Risk factors for developing lymphoma are unknown.  However, doctors believe immune system problems as well as age may increase a person's chance of developing this disease.

  • Non-Hodgkin's is most commonly found in people in their 60s and 70s.  However, the disease can affect anyone.
  • People with auto-immune disorders, including HIV and AIDS, are more likely to develop non-Hodgkin's lymphoma.
  • People who have received an organ transplant have a high risk of developing non-Hodgkin's.  This is because they must take drugs that suppress the immune system.

Signs and Symptoms of Non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma

The signs and symptoms of lymphoma are general and may also be associated with other, noncancerous conditions.  Talk to your doctor about any of these problems.

  • Swollen lymph nodes in your neck, underarm or groin.
  • Unexplained fevers.
  • Unexplained weight loss.
  • Constant fatigue.
  • Skin rash or itchy skin.
  • Unexplained pain in the chest, abdomen, pelvis or bones.
  • Drenching night sweats.

Unexplained fevers, night sweats and weight loss are known as symptoms.  Ask your doctor about their significance in your case.

Diagnosing Non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma

Lymphoma is not just one disease.  Rather, it is more than 30 types of cancer that act differently and may need special treatment.  To see if you have lymphoma and what kind it is, your doctor may order some or all of the following tests.

  • The doctor may 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.
  • A bone marrow biopsy may help determine if lymphoma has spread to that part of the body.  Your doctor may order imaging tests to see if lymphoma has spread to other organs.
  • These tests may include X-rays or CT, PET or MRI scans.

Staging of Non-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 tumor in distant lymph nodes.