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Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma: What is it? Signs and Symptoms

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Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma (NHL) is a dangerous and potentially deadly form of cancer that affects over 77,000 adults and children and accounts for about four percent of all cancers. As a disease that can strike nearly anyone at any age, including children and adolescents, it’s crucial that you learn how to recognize the signs of this disease so that you can seek early treatment if you believe you are experiencing symptoms.

What is Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma?

NHL is a form of lymphoma, or cancer of the lymphatic system, that begins in white blood cells called lymphocytes. Lymphocytes help fight infections caused by viruses, bacteria, and fungi. The Lymphatic system is a network of knotted tissues connected by vessels. It includes:

  • Lymph nodes – Bean-sized groups of lymphocytes and other cells that aid the immune system by protecting the spread of infection into the blood stream.
  • Bone marrow – Spongy tissue inside some bones where the body creates new blood cells, including lymphocytes, a type of white blood cell.
  • The spleen – The organ that creates lymphocytes and other immune system cells, stores healthy blood cells, and filters out damaged blood cells, cell waste, and bacteria.

In patients with lymphoma, lymph-node cells or lymphocytes multiply uncontrollably. The resulting cancer cells may dangerously invade other tissues throughout the body.

The Lymphatic Systems’ Role in Battling Infections

Your lymphatic system’s role in battling infections makes the potential for it to be attacked by cancer a dangerous and potentially deadly threat.

Your lymph nodes help to drain waste products and fluid from the body. In addition, lymphocytes are a crucial component in your body’s ability to fight disease and infection. The two types of lymphocytes are:

  • B lymphocytes (B cells) – Help protect the body against bacteria or viruses by creating antibodies. Most NHLs begin in the B cells.
  • T lymphocytes (T cells) – Some varieties fight germs and abnormal cells  while others boost or slow other immune system activities.

Once your doctor determines, among other factors, if your NHL originated in your B or T cells, they will be able to prescribe the most effective treatment method.

What Causes Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma?

While scientists do not know definitively what causes NHL, they know that it occurs when your body overproduces abnormal lymphocytes and old ones that should die continue to grow and divide, which causes swelling.

Signs and Symptoms of Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma

Symptoms of NHL may include:

  • Swollen lymph nodes, which you may detect in your neck, under your chin, in your groin area or armpits
  • Abdominal swelling or pain
  • Fatigue
  • Chest pain
  • Difficulty breathing, coughing
  • Fever
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Night sweats

If you are experiencing the symptoms above, make an appointment with your doctor.

Who is at Risk of Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma?

Nearly anyone can develop NHL, though it most commonly develops in Caucasians, males, and people over age 60. However; there are some factors that could put you at a greater risk of an NHL diagnosis:

  • Certain medications that suppress the immune system, sometimes prescribed after an organ transplant.
  • Inherited immune deficiencies.
  • Family history of lymphoma.
  • Some immune disorders such as Sjögren’s syndrome, rheumatoid arthritis, and systemic lupus erythematosus, and their treatments.
  • Celiac disease.
  • Dilantin (phenytoin), a medication used to treat seizure disorders.
  • Psoriasis and some of its treatments.
  • Some genetic syndromes including Down syndrome and Klinefelter’s syndrome.
  • Inflammatory bowel disease, including Crohn’s disease, and some of its treatments.
  • Certain viral and bacterial infections, including HIV, Epstein-Barr infection, and the ulcer-causing bacteria Helicobacter pylori.
  • Prior chemotherapy treatment.
  • Exposure to nuclear accidents, nuclear testing, or underground radiation leaks.
  • While research is ongoing, scientists believe that some pesticides may cause NHL.
  • Diets high in fat and meat.
  • Ultraviolet light exposure.
  • Excessive alcohol consumption.

As with many forms of cancer, early detection is critical to obtaining effective treatment. If you have any concerns about your risk of Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, or believe you may be experiencing symptoms, make an appointment to see your doctor.