Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma is a type of lymphoma, which is a blood cancer that affects the lymphatic system. Non-Hodgkin lymphoma starts with the mutation of a certain type of white blood cell, called a lymphocyte. This mutated cell begins to divide and spread, quickly in many cases, as the lymphatic system runs throughout the body. About 70,000 new cases of non-Hodgkin lymphoma are diagnosed per year, with about 19,000 of those cases resulting in fatality.
Types of Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma
There are many types of non-Hodgkin lymphoma, and classifying the type can be difficult, as the systems have changed throughout the years. The most recent and currently the most commonly used system is the World Health Organization’s. This system classifies the type based on how it looks under a microscope, the chromosomal make-up, and the presence of certain proteins. Determining the type and stage of the lymphoma is crucial to determining how to proceed with treatment.
Types of non-Hodgkin lymphoma most commonly diagnosed include:
- Diffuse large B-cell lymphoma
- Intervascular large B-cell lymphoma
- Follicular lymphoma
- Chronic lymphoma leukemia
- Marginal zone b-cell lymphomas
- Lymphoplasmacytic lymphoma
- Burkitt lymphoma
- Primary central nervous system lymphoma
- Pre-cursor lymphoblastic lymphoma
- Peripheral t-cell lymphoma
Diagnosing Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma
Preliminary tests used to detect non-Hodgkin lymphoma are physical examination of lymph nodes, blood and urine tests to rule out other conditions, and imaging tests to look for tumors throughout the body. If these tests indicate the possibility of non-Hodgkin lymphoma, a biopsy will be ordered to verify the condition.
During a biopsy, a sample of lymph tissue is taken from the body and analyzed. A biopsy can also be used to determine the type of non-Hodgkin lymphoma and the staging. In some cases, a bone marrow test is also done to determine whether the non-Hodgkin lymphoma has spread to bone tissue.
Misdiagnosis of Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma
The misdiagnosis of non-Hodgkin lymphoma occurs often, as the symptoms of the disease are also common symptoms of many other illnesses, such as influenza. Fever, chills, fatigue, swelling of lymph nodes, and unexplained weight loss are typical symptoms of non-Hodgkin lymphoma. Other illnesses can be ruled out with the use of blood and urine tests; however, many doctors overlook non-Hodgkin lymphoma as a possibility and do not recommend these tests. In some cases, biopsies may also be misinterpreted by pathologists, resulting in a misdiagnosis.
Conditions that non-Hodgkin Lymphoma is commonly misdiagnosed as include:
- Hodgkin’s lymphoma
- Cat scratch fever
Delayed diagnosis and misdiagnosis of non-Hodgkin lymphoma is very dangerous. Non-Hodgkin lymphoma can spread quickly throughout the body, making treatment difficult if the lymphoma is not caught in early stages. The patient may also take part in treatment for conditions that are not present, putting the patient at unnecessary risk for side effects from these treatments. In some cases of misdiagnosis of non-Hodgkin lymphoma, the patient dies before a proper diagnosis can be made.
Treating non-Hodgkin Lymphoma
Determining the aggressiveness of the non-Hodgkin lymphoma is important when determining how to treat it. In some cases, the cancer is not aggressive, and treatment is not necessary. If the lymphoma is not being treated, physicians will schedule patients for regular examinations to monitor changes in the non-Hodgkin lymphoma. In most cases, however, treatment must be started as soon as possible after diagnosis to preserve the patient’s health and quality of life.
Common treatment methods for non-Hodgkin lymphoma include:
- Radiation therapy
- Stem cell transplant
Chemotherapy and radiation therapy both target unhealthy cells, but may also kill healthy cells. Both of these methods of treatment are known to be effective, but have a number of harmful side effects. Stem cell transplants are used in conjunction with radiation therapy, chemotherapy, or a combination of both. The radiation therapy or chemotherapy is used to kill cancerous cells, and then healthy cells are injected into the body, where these cells can begin producing new blood cells that are cancer-free. Medications may be used to boost the immune system, or to bring radiation directly to cells that are infected with non-Hodgkin lymphoma.
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