Lymphoma is the fifth most commonly diagnosed cancer in the UK, yet awareness is limited.
Blood cancer is an umbrella term for cancers affecting the blood, bone marrow and lymphatic system - there are 137 types in total, including leukaemia, lymphoma and multiple myeloma.
Diana Jupp, chief executive of Bloodwise, said blood cancer “is still a much-misunderstood and little-known disease area”. This lack of awareness can result in late diagnosis, which can drastically affect a person’s survival rate.
Approximately one in 25 people in the UK will be diagnosed with blood cancer at some point in their life, so it’s certainly worth knowing the signs to look out for. Here we explain what lymphoma is, as well as symptoms and treatment.
What is lymphoma?
Lymphoma is a type of cancer affecting the lymph glands or other organs in the lymphatic system.
This system is made up of lymphatic tissue (found in the stomach, bowel, eye and thyroid gland), white blood cells (called lymphocytes) and lymphatic organs (such as the bone marrow, tonsils, thymus, testicles, spleen and lymph nodes).
There are different types of lymphoma, according to Cancer Research UK. The two main types are Hodgkin lymphoma, a cancer of a type of white blood cell called lymphocytes, and non Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL), a cancer of the lymphatic system.
The Lymphoma Association says it is not known what specifically causes lymphoma, however scientists do know that it develops because of changes in the genes of a lymphocyte. This affects how the cell grows and divides, or may prevent it dying when it normally should.
Symptoms of lymphoma can differ between people, depending on where the lymphoma starts in the body and which parts are affected.
According to Cancer Research UK, specific symptoms related to Hodgkin lymphoma include a painless swelling in the neck, groin or armpit. Other more general symptoms, which affect one in four people, include:
:: Heavy sweating, especially at night
:: High temperatures / fever (again, often overnight)
:: Rapid weight loss over a short period of time
:: Itching, which may be worse after drinking alcohol
:: Coughing or shortness of breath
:: Abdominal pain or vomiting after drinking alcohol.
If Hodgkin lymphoma is in the bone marrow, symptoms may include:
:: Increased risk of infections
:: Bleeding problems such as nosebleeds, very heavy periods, or a rash of tiny blood spots under the skin.
Non Hodgkin lymphoma
Symptoms of non Hodgkin lymphoma are fairly similar. Patients might find one or more painless swellings in the neck, armpit or groin. They may also lose a lot of weight, experience heavy sweating at night and temperatures that come and go with no obvious cause.
Other symptoms can include:
:: Enlarged tonsils, liver or spleen
:: Lump in abdomen
:: Feeling breathless.
If the lymphoma starts in the brain it can cause headaches, difficulty thinking, difficulty moving parts of the body, changes in personality and seizures.
How doctors treat Hodgkin lymphoma and Non Hodgkin lymphoma will depend on the type and stage of the cancer, as well as the health of the patient.
The main treatment types include chemotherapy and radiotherapy, however steroid treatments, biological therapies (drugs which change the way cells work and help the body control the growth of cancer) and stem cell and bone marrow transplants are also options.