There are over 30 types of lymphoma that have so far been detected and they can be grouped according to a variety of criteria. One such criterion is how fast the cancer is growing and so lymphomas are generally classed as either slow growing or fast growing. Slow growing lymphomas can be very difficult to detect because they rarely exhibit symptoms while they are still in an early stage.
As their name suggests, slow growing lymphomas take a relatively long time to grow to a size that starts to affect the body. Initially slow growing lymphomas will confine themselves to one specific area of the body. This is normally a lymph gland or a site close to a lymph gland and because they stay confined they don't affect any other organs or tissues. The only outward sign of early stage lymphoma is a painless swelling of the affected lymph glands however this swelling can easily be missed or ignored by the patient. Even if it is noticed it is often attributed to a simple infection and no more notice is taken of it until it starts to become uncomfortable.
It may be over a year before sections of the confined lymphoma start to break off and travel to secondary sites in the body. Lymphoma affects the lymphocyte cells of the immune system and as such it has the ability to travel through the lymphatic system and in the blood stream. When the lymphoma cells do start to migrate to other areas the immune system tries to eradicate them and it is at this stage that the first systemic symptoms are experienced by the patient. These symptoms might include fever, night sweats, abdominal distension, unexplained weight loss and occasionally anemia i.e. chronic fatigue, tiredness and pale skin, although the exact symptoms will depend on the area that the migrating cells invade.
Often it is at this stage that the patient first visits the doctor and a provisional diagnosis is made. A number of medical tests are required to confirm the diagnosis and these tests will not only provide information regarding the exact type of lymphoma that is present, they will also say whether the lymphoma is fast or slow growing and what stage it has reached.
Unfortunately, many cases of slow growing lymphoma have reached a late stage by the time they are detected and diagnosed. This means they have spread to numerous areas of the body and so are a lot more difficult to treat effectively. There will also be a lot more cancer cells then the body can easily cope with and they may have infiltrated areas that are incredibly hard to treat such as the liver and bone marrow. For this reason it is important to consult a doctor whenever swelling of the lymph glands is noticed or any of the other lymphoma symptoms mentioned above are experienced. It is highly likely that the swelling and symptoms are caused by a minor illness however it is well worth finding this out as early as possible.
By Jeremy Parker
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