Lymphoma is a blood cancer that affects the lymphatic system. The lymphatic system is a large part of the immune system. Other diseases may be more difficult to fight off after development of lymphoma, and fighting the disease itself becomes increasingly difficult as the immune system is compromised. In 2013, over 731,000 people are either living with lymphoma or are in remission.
Types of Lymphoma
There are two main types of lymphoma; Hodgkin lymphoma, which also known as Hodgkin’s disease, and non-Hodgkin lymphoma. Hodgkin lymphoma is easier to diagnose than non-Hodgkin lymphoma, as it has certain symptoms that differentiate it from other diseases. Reed-Sternberg cells are large cancerous cells that are present in Hodgkin infected tissues. These cells are named after the scientists that first discerned the differences between healthy cells and these. Hodgkin lymphoma is a type of cancer that has a very high rate of curability.
Non-Hodgkin lymphomas begin when a white blood cell mutates. This mutated cell begins to divide, multiplying and spreading. Lymphoma can be extremely dangerous, since it spreads through the lymph system, it can quickly move to many different areas of the body. Physicians are unsure of what causes non-Hodgkin lymphoma in most cases.
Symptoms of Lymphoma
Symptoms of lymphoma can mimic other diseases. These symptoms include:
- Night sweats
- Weight loss not explainable by other means
- Trouble breathing
- Coughing and chest pain
- Pain or swelling in the abdomen
- Swollen lymph nodes
Diagnosing Lymphoma & Lymphoma Misdiagnosis
If non-Hodgkin lymphoma is suspected, physicians may be able to diagnose it by doing a biopsy. Biopsies are generally ordered if a swollen lymph node has not gone down after a reasonable amount of time, or if the lymph node continues to swell. In this case, a small piece of the swollen lymph node is usually removed for observation and testing. A biopsy is the only way to definitively diagnose non-Hodgkin lymphoma. If non-Hodgkin lymphoma has been diagnosed, a bone-marrow biopsy may be ordered to determine if the lymphoma has reached the bone marrow.
Hodgkin lymphoma may be diagnosed using blood tests and imaging tests. Blood tests can positively reveal the presence of Reed-Sternberg cells, indicating Hodgkin lymphoma. X-rays, CT scans, and MRIs may reveal the presence of lymphoma. Biopsies can also be done to determine the presence of Hodgkin lymphoma, including bone marrow biopsies.
Misdiagnosis of Lymphoma
Lymphoma can be misdiagnosed or fail to be diagnosed if a physician mistakes symptoms for another disease and fails to do a biopsy or blood test. In some cases, blood tests or biopsies can also be erroneously diagnosed as other diseases by pathologists that are not well trained in detecting lymphoma. In other cases, pathologists or physicians make a lymphoma diagnosis, when in fact there is a different disease causing similar symptoms or results.
Pathologists have recently discovered a non-deadly disease that mimics many symptoms of non-Hodgkin lymphoma. Called indolent T-cell lymphoproliferative disease of the gastrointestinal tract, or indolent T-LPD the disease causes similar lesions in the gastrointestinal tract. In some cases, this disease has been misdiagnosed as lymphoma, and physicians have begun executing lymphoma treatment. Since most types of cancer treatment destroy healthy body cells, this can be highly detrimental to the patient. The indolent T-LPD does not respond to lymphoma treatment, so the patient will continue to suffer through symptoms.
Treatment of Lymphoma
Unlike most forms of cancer, lymphoma does not always need treatment to be cured. In some cases, lymphoma will not cause any harmful symptoms, and can merely be monitored for growth or spread. If the lymphoma does exhibit worsening signs, treatments include chemotherapy, radiation therapy, medications, and stem cell transplants. If a stem cell transplant is done, physicians will often prescribe chemotherapy or radiation therapy to help destroy the unhealthy cells so that new healthy cells can be implanted. Medications that are prescribed may help to boost the body’s immunity to fight the disease, or may deliver radiation directly to the cancerous cells.
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