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Lymphoma is more treatable today than ever before. Survival rates for many types of lymphoma are 80% or higher when diagnosed early. At Mercy, we’re committed to helping people facing lymphoma survive and thrive after treatment.
Lymphoma is cancer that starts in the lymph system (also called the lymphatic system), which is part of the body’s immune system. Lymph is a fluid that contains white blood cells your body needs to fight infection. Just as your circulatory system carries blood throughout your body, the lymph system transports lymph fluid.
Sometimes a type of white blood cell (called a lymphocyte) can change and grow out of control, causing lymphoma. Lymphoma cells can form masses (tumors) in any area of the body that has lymph tissue, such as the spleen, thymus gland, bone marrow, tonsils and digestive tract.
More than 70 types of lymphoma have been identified, ranging from slow-growing (indolent) to highly aggressive. Lymphoma is categorized into two broad groups:
Hodgkin lymphoma (also called Hodgkin disease) is named after Dr. Thomas Hodgkin, who first identified the condition in 1832. It’s marked by the presence of Reed-Sternberg cells (named for the scientists who identified them) ― very large, abnormal cells that often have more than one nucleus. It’s one of the most curable forms of cancer.
Any lymphoma that doesn’t have Reed-Sternberg cells is called non-Hodgkin lymphoma. This disease has many different subtypes, which range from slow-growing (indolent) to fast-growing (aggressive). The subtypes develop and respond to treatment differently.
The exact cause of lymphoma isn’t known. But certain factors can increase the risk of developing the two main types of lymphoma.
Lymphoma may not cause symptoms until it becomes advanced. When symptoms occur, they may include:
Certain symptoms feel like other illnesses, such as the flu. Talk with your Mercy doctor if you experience persistent illness or have swollen lymph nodes.
Mercy cancer specialists use several tools to diagnose lymphoma, including:
During a physical exam, your Mercy doctor reviews your medical history and discusses any symptoms you’re having. You’ll be checked for swollen lymph nodes in your neck, underarm and groin. You’ll also be examined for swelling in the liver or spleen.
A biopsy can confirm whether lymphoma cells are present in the lymph nodes. A sample of lymph tissue or an entire lymph node may be removed and tested in a lab. Types of biopsies include incisional (surgery to collect a tissue sample) and fine-needle aspiration (using a narrow-gauge needle to collect tissue).
A complete blood count (CBC) test is a test that measures levels of different cells in your blood. People with lymphoma often have abnormal blood counts. An erythrocyte sedimentation rate (ESR) test measures inflammation in the body. ESR can be elevated in people with lymphoma.
A bone marrow sample is removed from your hip bone using a needle. The sample is analyzed to check for lymphoma cells.
Imaging tests like x-rays, PET/CT scans and MRIs are used to detect signs of lymphoma throughout the body.
Mercy’s cancer specialists offer more than medical expertise. We bring compassion, support and encouragement to people fighting lymphoma. Your personalized treatment plan is based on the type of lymphoma you have and whether it’s slow-growing or aggressive. Treatments may include:
Chemotherapy is a medication that destroys lymphoma cells to keep them from growing or multiplying. It may be given alone or with other treatments like radiation therapy.
Radiation therapy uses high doses of radiation to kill lymphoma cells or keep them from growing. External beam radiation therapy uses machines outside the body that aim high-energy x-rays (or beams) at lymphoma cells.
Targeted therapy identifies and attacks specific molecules (molecular targets) on cancer cells that help them grow and spread.
Immunotherapy helps the immune system attack lymphoma cells by boosting immunity or changing how it functions.
Active surveillance means monitoring cancer closely. Periodic visits with Mercy cancer specialists and testing help detect changes that may require treatment. If your Mercy cancer specialist feels a stem cell transplant (also called a bone marrow transplant) is needed, you’ll be referred to an appropriate transplant center.
Our highly experienced cancer specialists can find the combination of lymphoma treatments that helps you live and feel your best.
Dr. Heide Rodgers of Mercy Clinic Oncology shares perspectives on lymphoma treatment and why outcomes are often positive.
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