Non-Hodgkin's lymphoma is a term that describes a group of over 30 subtypes of lymphoma, each of which grows and differentiates at a different rate and so responds differently to treatment. Even though the subtypes are all individual they exhibit very similar symptoms and so a list of common symptoms associated with lymphoma have been produced by doctors and researchers.
The primary symptom that suggests the presence of lymphoma is a painless swelling of the lymph glands. These can be found in a number of body areas however the main ones that can be felt with the hand are in the neck, just above the jaw line on either side of the throat, in the armpit area and in the groin. It may be that only one of these areas is affected and so lymphoma is often missed until the swelling grows and starts to become uncomfortable. Not every case of lymph gland swelling is caused by lymphoma and there are a number of other, less serious, conditions that can make the glands swell. Thus if you do experience any swelling you should not jump to the conclusion that you have cancer; it is much more likely to be due to a simple infection.
If non-Hodgkin's lymphoma is not detected early then there is the possibility that the cancerous cells will break away from the main site of growth and spread to secondary sites in the body. At this point the disease become systemic and obvious symptoms start to become apparent. These symptoms can include fever, night sweats, unexplained weight loss, abdominal distension and occasionally anemia. Anemia has its own set of symptoms including pale skin, tiredness, and chronic fatigue. Many of these symptoms are caused by the immune system response to the cancerous cells and they are often severe enough to cause the patient to consult a doctor.
Once a doctor is consulted it is only a matter of time before a diagnosis of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma is made. A general physician will be able to diagnose possible lymphoma however the patient will be referred to a specialist so that a number of diagnostic tests can be carried out. Lymphoma can be confirmed using blood tests however more precise tests will then be needed in order to detect the exact type of lymphoma present, how fast it is growing and what stage it has reached. These additional tests will include CT and MRI scans of the main body areas i.e. the chest, abdomen and pelvis areas, x-rays and in severe cases a bone marrow biopsy.
Once non-Hodgkin's lymphoma is detected and properly diagnosed then treatment will start soon after. The type of treatment that is recommended will depend on what stage the lymphoma has reached because some forms of treatment are useless against late stage cancer. In very advanced cases it may be that treatment is pointless and palliative care is all that can be offered. Thus it is important to consult a doctor as soon as possible if any of the symptoms mentioned above are felt, even if it is just to put the mind at ease.
By Jeremy Parker
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