is one of the two types of cancers called lymphoma that affects the lymphatic system. Lymphoma is a cancer that starts when white blood cells called lymphocytes start to grow out of control.
Lymphoma is a term used to describe cancers that start form the lymphatic system. It is divided into two main types Hodgkin and Non-Hodgkin lymphoma. Both types develop from lymphatic system but they differ on how they behave, spread and respond to treatment. To understand lymphoma, it is important to know lymphatic system first.
Lymphatic system is a part of immune system of the body that protect the body against diseases and infections. It is made up of the following;
• Lymph vessels. These thin tubes that carry lymph fluid around the body. These vessels form a network throughout the body including in organs such as the spleen, thymus gland, bone marrow and liver.
• Lymph fluid. This clear fluid travels to and from the tissues in the body. The fluid contains lymphocytes.
• Lymph nodes. Lymph nodes are small, bean-shaped structures that are found along the lymph vessels. Lymph nodes filters the fluid as it passes throughout the body removing and destroying bacteria, viruses and other pathogens. Lymph nodes are located in groups throughout the body, including the neck, chest, abdomen and groin.
• Lymphoid tissue. These tissues include, the lymph nodes, spleen, bone marrow, thymus, tonsils, and some tissues in the digestive tract.
• Spleen. This makes lymphocytes and other immune system cells. It also filters out damaged blood cells, bacteria, and cell waste.
• Bone marrow. Thisproduce some lymphocytes.
• Thymus. Thymus is a small organ behind the upper part of the breastbone and infront of the heart. It is important for T lymphocyte development.
• Tonsils: These help to make antibodies against germs that are breathed in or swallowed.
The lymph nodes, lymph tissue and lymph fluid all contain white blood cells called lymphocytes, which help to fight infections. Upon trapping the germs, the lymph nodes becomes swollen as a sign that your body is fighting an infection.
Types of Hodgkin lymphoma
There are two types of Hodgkin lymphoma, classical Hodgkin lymphoma and nodular lymphocyte-predominant Hodgkin lymphoma. These types differ on their appearance under the microscope, their growth and how they spread. These types are further subdivided into the following subtypes.
Classical Hodgkin lymphoma
• Majority of Hodgkin lymphoma cases belong to this type. Abnormal cells of this type of lymphoma are called Reed-Sternberg cells. This type of lymphoma is further subdivided into four types.
• Nodular sclerosis. In addition to reed-Sternberg, lymph nodes of this subtype of lymphoma has band of connective tissues also known as fibrosis. It is the most common type of Hodgkin lymphoma among young adults.
• Lymphocyte-rich. In addition to reed-Sternberg cells, this subtype also have contains high amount of normal lymphocytes compared to other subtypes.
• Mixed cellularity. This subtype is common to older adults. In addition to many reed-Sternberg cells, it contains many different types of cells.
• Lymphocyte-depleted. It is most common to older people with human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). This type of Hodgkin lymphoma contains very few normal lymphocytes but majority of cells are reed- Sternberg cells. Nodular lymphocyte-predominant Hodgkin lymphoma
• This is less common type of Hodgkin lymphoma. Cells of this type differ on their appearance to those of classical Hodgkin lymphoma. Cancer cells in this type of lymphoma (NLPHL) are large cells called popcorn cells. They are named as popcorn cells because of how they look like under microscope (they resemble popcorn) which are variants of Reed-Sternberg cell. NLPHL usually starts in lymph nodes in the neck and under the arm. It can occur in people of any age and its treatment is differently from the classic types.
Hodgkin lymphoma is sometimes known as Hodgkin disease. Normally it starts in one or more lymph nodes from any part of the body, but it is often first noticed in the neck. It can also begin in groups of lymph nodes under an arm, in the groin, or in the abdomen or pelvis.
Risk factors of Hodgkin lymphoma
When it comes to cancer, anything that increases your probability of developing cancer is called a risk factor. Risk factors only influence development of cancer but it does not directly cause cancer. Sometimes people with risk factors do not develop the disease while those with no risk factors do develop the disease. Knowing risk factors will help you live your life making some better healthy choices to reduce the risk. The risk factors for Hodgkin lymphoma include the following;
• Family history of the disease. People in a family with the history of the disease are believed to have an increased chance of developing the disease at some point of their life.
• Viral infection. People with the history of infection with Epstein-Barr virus or human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), have an increased chance of developing classic Hodgkin lymphoma at some point of their life.
• Gender. Although the difference is very small, but Hodgkin lymphoma is more common to men than women. • Weakened immune system. This can be caused by autoimmune disease or taking immune suppression drugs after organ transplant. People with weakened immune system, have an increased risk of developing the disease.
Prevention of Hodgkin lymphoma
To prevent something, you need to know what causes it first. Since the specific cause of Hodgkin lymphoma is still unknown, there is no way of completely preventing the development of Hodgkin lymphoma.
Although there are no known ways to completely prevent development of Hodgkin lymphoma, some may reduce the risk by avoiding HIV infection. HIV infection will increase your chance of developing classic Hodgkin lymphoma.
Early detection and screening
When it comes to cancer, early detection normally provide better treatment outcome. When Hodgkin lymphoma is found early, chances for better treatment outcome are very high. For most cancers, early detection has been greatly contributed by the presence of screening processes.
Screening is the process of running some tests to someone with no symptoms of the disease with the intention of determining presence or absence of the disease. Unfortunately, there are no widely recommended screening tests for Hodgkin lymphoma. Despite absence of screening tests for this cancer, some cases are nowadays found much earlier than in the past, hence they can be treated successfully.
Early detection of those few cases has been due to the symptoms experienced, such as lump or bump under the skin which is caused by enlarged nodes. The lumps are normally not painful.
Signs and symptoms of Hodgkin lymphoma
People with Hodgkin lymphoma may experience the following signs and symptoms. But sometimes those changes are caused by medical conditions different to cancer, hence seeing your doctor upon experiencing any of those symptoms is strongly advised. Signs and symptoms of Hodgkin lymphoma include the following;
• Painless swelling in the neck, under the arms or in the groin region. This is caused by enlarged lymph nodes.
• Unexplained weigh loss
• Excessive sweating especially at night
• Unexplained fever
• Unexplained cough
• Shortness of breath
• Loss of appetite
• Itching skin
Diagnosis of Hodgkin lymphoma
Medical diagnosis simply means identification of nature of an illness by elimination of the symptoms. Normally people don`t go to hospital knowing they have cancer but during diagnostic procedures is when doctors detect the disease.
Following suspicion of the disease, doctors normally run combination of tests to determine whether there are cancerous cells in the body or not and if there are cancer cells, how far have they spread. Along with thorough medical history and physical examination, doctors normally use combination of the following tests to diagnose cancer.
Laboratory tests. Laboratory tests are important in ruling out other conditions and confirming diagnosis. For cancer diagnosis laboratory tests normally include blood tests, urine tests, tumor markers and other body fluids tests. • Blood tests. Blood tests help to reveal level of different substances in the blood which will help doctors to know if there is anything wrong in the body. From blood tests doctors can see complete blood count which indicates number, size and maturity of blood cells. Also from the blood tests doctors can analyze if kidney and liver are working properly.
• Urine tests. Urine tests (urinalysis) involve laboratory examination of urine to check presence of blood, proteins, and other substances such as drugs. For instance blood in the urine may be an indication of benign condition, infection or other health problem.
• Tumor markers. These are biomarkers (proteins) that can be produced by both cancer cells and normal body cells in response to cancer. Tumor markers are released into the blood or urine. Although studies are still conducted to determine role of these markers in diagnosing cancer because sometimes people with benign condition will have elevated level of these proteins. Also not all tumors have their markers and some markers are not specific to one type of tumor.
• Other body fluids. Despite being rarely used, sometimes body fluids can be tested in the lab during diagnosis of cancer. For instance the use of cerebral spinal fluid (CSF) and pleural fluid. CSF is used in diagnosis of brain tumors while pleural fluid for lung cancer.
Diagnostic imagings involve tests that create pictures of inside the body that help the doctor to see if there is tumor or not. There are several imaging tests used in cancer diagnosis depending on the type and location of cancer suspected. These imaging tests include;
• Computed tomography (CT) scan. CT scan machine is a donut-shaped scanner that uses x-rays to create series of pictures of body organs from different angles. This machine is linked to a computer where those series of pictures taken will be combined to create a 3D- image of inside the body. During the scanning process patient will lie still on the table which will slide into the scanner. In order to get a clear image, sometimes the doctor will inject the patient with a contrast material before scanning. From the images the doctor will be able to differentiate between healthy and unhealthy tissues.
• Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). MRI is an imaging technique that uses powerful magnet and radio waves to take series of pictures of body organs and create a 3D image in a computer linked to a machine. Just like in CT, during MRI procedure the patient will lie on a table that will slide into a long round chamber. Also during this procedure the doctor may inject the patient with a contrast material for clear image view.
• X-ray. This is an imaging technique that is uses low dose of radiation to create pictures of inside your body. Technician will position the patient and direct the x-ray beam to the intended part of the body.
• Ultrasound. Ultrasound is a diagnostic imaging procedure that uses high energy sound waves to produce images of organs inside the body. During the examination, a patient will lie on the table while the technician will slowly move a device called transducer on the skin over the part of the body that is being examined.
• PET scan. Positron emission tomography (PET) scan is an imaging test that uses radioactive glucose to create 3-D images of areas inside the body. Radioactive glucose is used for this test because cancer cells tend to absorb more glucose than normal body cells, so the scan will show which areas of the body has more glucose than others. Before the scan, doctor will inject the patient with tracer called radioactive glucose then during imaging the patient will be asked to lie on the table that will be moving back and forth through the scanner.
• Bone scan. Bone scan is used to examine bones. When it comes to cancer, bone scan is used for diagnosis of bone cancer or cancer that has metastasized into the bones. Before the test, patient will be injected with small amount of radioactive material that tends to collect more on abnormal parts of the bones. Then pictures that will be taken by a scan will indicate the distribution of those radioactive materials in the bones throughout the body.
Biopsy is a diagnostic procedure that involves removing a tissue sample from the body and examines it under microscope in the laboratory. Examination in the laboratory is normally done by a pathologist who will check if the cells in the tissue are cancerous or not. In most cancer cases, biopsy is considered to be the confirmatory test. Depending on the location and type of cancer, biopsy can be obtained in different ways. Some of them include;
• Using needle. By using a thin needle, doctors can draw same tissue or fluid for examination under microscope. This method can be used to draw some fluid (spinal tap), bone marrow (bone marrow aspiration), blood or small amount of tumor from the suspected organ such as liver and breast (fine needle aspiration).
• Surgery. Abnormal tissue samples are obtained while the doctor is performing the surgery. Tissues are then sent to the lab for examination during the surgery. If the surgeon removes just a portion of abnormal area it is called incisional biopsy while when the entire tumor (abnormal site) is removed it is called excisional biopsy.
• Using endoscope. Endoscope is a thin, lighted tube with a camera (focusing telescope) at the end. It is used for viewing inside the body through natural openings like mouth and anus. During an examination if the doctor sees any abnormal tissue, then endoscope can also be used to take sample for that tissue. There are different kinds of endoscopy exams depending on the site of the body being examined. Some of the exams include colonoscopy (for rectum and colon), bronchoscopy (for trachea, bronchi and lungs) and esophagogastroduodenoscopy EGD (for esophagus, stomach and duodenum)
In addition to medical history and physical examination diagnosis of Hodgkin lymphoma normally involves the use of biopsy, CT scan, MRI Scan, PET Scan and blood test.
Stages of Hodgkin lymphoma
Staging is a standard way used by cancer care team to explain how far the cancer has grown or spread. Staging also enables the oncology team to decide on the suitable treatment option. In this process of staging, doctors normally use systems in order to describe the stage of cancer.
When dealing with Hodgkin lymphoma doctors normally describe staging by using a system known as Lugano classification system which describes the stage basing on the following;
• Number of affected lymph nodes.
• Whether the affected lymph nodes are in one area or not.
• Whether the affected lymph nodes are on only one or both sides of the diaphragm.
• Whether the disease has spread to other organs outside the lymphatic system.
In addition to that, group stages of Hodgkin lymphoma can further be subdivided into A and B depending on whether you are experiencing any specific symptoms.
1. This means you have none of the common symptoms such as weight loss, fever and night sweats.
2. This means that you are experiencing some of the common symptoms such as fever and night sweats.
Stages Stage I. Only one lymph node is affected and it is on either side of the diaphragm.
Stage II. More than one lymph node is affected but they are either above or below the
Stage III. More than one lymph node is affected and they are on both sides of the
Stage IV. Cancer is in multiple lymph nodes and has spread to other organs beyond the
Lymph nodes. Such as liver, bone marrow and lungs.
Treatment of Hodgkin lymphoma
Following cancer diagnosis, the doctor will break the news and it is normally not very easy to accept that it is cancer. The doctor will be there to help the patient process the news and to help the patient in taking the next steps.
After the patient receives and processes the news that he/she has cancer, one of the most important steps that will follow is decision making. The doctor will present to the patient (relatives/parents/guardians) with all the possible treatment options and explain what they mean. Then with the help of the doctor, the patient (relatives/parents/guardian) will have to choose which treatment option is good depending on benefits of such option.
Despite all the information given by the doctor, sometimes the patient may still be unsatisfied with what he/she has been told. In such situation, the patient is free and advised to seek a second opinion. Second opinion is the opinion that the patient may seek from another specialist (doctor) regarding his/her health problem and in this case it is cancer. Second opinion may include confirmation of the diagnosis, more clarification on your primary doctor recommendations or even reassurances that all the options have been explored.
In addition to standard care treatment options, sometimes there are those new treatments or drugs or combination of treatments that have not been approved yet to be used as standard care treatments for a particular cancer (disease) but have shown some promising results that they may help. These type of treatments are called clinical trials.
If there are some clinical trials for your case, the doctor may present to the patient or the patient may ask if there are any clinical trials for the particular cancer case. Over the years, have improved treatments and led to better outcomes to people diagnosed with various diseases including cancer. If you have decided to take part in clinical trial, you can also withdraw at any time
Treatment of Hodgkin lymphoma requires a team of doctors and other health care professionals. This team work together and it is called multidisciplinary team. Team may vary depending on the treatment option for a particular case. But generally multidisciplinary team for treatment of Hodgkin lymphoma includes hematologist, medical oncologist, radiation oncologist and other health care professionals like oncology nurses and palliative care team. Treatment options include the following;
Chemotherapy is a treatment option that involves the use of drugs to destroy cancer cells or slow its growth. It is the most used treatment option when dealing with Hodgkin lymphoma. It is given by a specialized doctor known as medical oncologist. For treatment of this disease chemotherapy is normally given through injection into veins (intravenously) and rarely swallowed as pill or capsule.
Side effects of chemotherapy
Side effects of chemotherapy depend on the dose given, type of drug used and periodic time by which the drug has been used. Some of the possible side effects include the following;
• Loss of hairs
• Nausea and/or vomiting
• Risk of infection due to decreased white blood cells
• Feeling tired due to low number of red blood cells
• Easily bruised and bleeding due to low platelets
• Loss of appetite
Radiation therapy is an option that involve the use of high energy x-rays or other radiation particles to destroy cancer cells. It is given by a specialized doctor known as radiation oncologist. Radiation therapy is normally given after the course of chemotherapy. Hodgkin lymphoma is always treated by using external beam radiation therapy which involve treatment of cancer from the source (machine) outside the body.
The treatment is usually given as multiple small doses over several days or weeks to maximize the effect of the radiotherapy and reduce side effects depending on the size, stage of the disease and your general health.
Side effects of radiation therapy
Side effects of radiation therapy depends on the dose given and area of the body being treated. Most of the side effects will go away soon after completion of treatment. Some of the possible side effects of radiation therapy include the following;
• Mild skin reactions
• Upset stomach
• Loose bowel movement
• Sore throat
• Sore and Dry mouth
Stem cell transplantation
Stem cell transplantation is a treatment option that involve replacing a patient`s bone marrow by highly specialized cells called hematopoietic stem cells. This treatment option is sometimes known as bone marrow transplantation. These cells will mature into healthy bone marrow. Hematopoietic stem cells are blood forming cells found in the bone marrow.
Stem cell transplantation is used when Hodgkin lymphoma comes back (recurs or relapses) or didn`t respond to initial treatment, that resulted to the use of high doses of chemotherapy to help destroy the cancer cells. High doses may have led to the damage of stem cells, hence you may need a stem cell transplant to help restore the bone marrow and rebuild your immune system. A transplant is normally done in several stages and the entire procedure, including recovery, can take months. There are two types of stem cell transplantation;
• Autologous stem cell transplantation. This type uses stem cells that were previously removed from your blood stream and later are transplanted (reinfused) back into your body.
• Allogeneic transplantation. This involves the use of stem cells taken from another person (donor). The donor may be a family member or from a donor registry. This type of transplant is less common, as most people with Hodgkin lymphoma respond to treatment with either chemotherapy, radiotherapy or an autologous transplant.
Side effects of stem cell transplantation
Most of the side effects of this treatment option resemble to those of chemotherapy but with this treatment options the side effects may be a little bit severe. Some of the possible side effects of stem cell transplantation include the following;
• Nausea and vomiting
• Hair loss
• Risk of infection
• Easily bruising and bleeding