What is lymphoma? — Lymphoma is a cancer of lymphocytes, which are infection-fighting cells of the body's lymphatic system. The lymphatic system is made up of organs all over the body that make and store cells that fight infection (figure 1).
When people have lymphoma, their lymphocytes become abnormal and grow out of control. These cells can travel to different parts of the body. Often, the abnormal cells collect in small, bean-shaped organs called lymph nodes. This causes the lymph nodes to swell.
There are different types of lymphoma. Some types grow very slowly. Other types grow much faster. Sometimes, people start out with a slow-growing type of lymphoma that later becomes fast-growing.
What are the symptoms of lymphoma? — The first sign of lymphoma is often one or more large, swollen lymph nodes. These swollen lymph nodes can be felt under the skin, but are usually not painful. They are often in the neck, groin, armpit, or stomach.
Lymph nodes deeper in the body can also become swollen and cause symptoms. For example, swollen lymph nodes around the lungs can cause a cough or trouble breathing.
Other symptoms of lymphoma include:
Night sweats that soak your clothes
All of these symptoms can also be caused by conditions that are not lymphoma. But if you have these symptoms, you should let your doctor or nurse know.
Is there a test for lymphoma? — Yes. Your doctor or nurse will do an exam and ask about your symptoms. He or she might order other tests, including:
Lymph node biopsy – A doctor will remove all or part of the swollen lymph node. Then another doctor will look at cells under a microscope to see if lymphoma is present.
Bone marrow biopsy – A small sample of bone marrow, which is the spongy tissue in the center of some bones, will be removed with a needle and examined under a microscope to see if it has lymphoma.
Other biopsy – In some cases, a small sample of other abnormal tissues will be removed to check for lymphoma.
CT scan, PET scan, or other imaging tests – These tests create pictures of the inside of your body and can show abnormal growths.
What is lymphoma staging? — Lymphoma staging is a way in which doctors find out how far lymphoma has spread within the lymphatic system or within the body.
The right treatment for you will depend, in part, on the stage of your lymphoma. Your treatment will also depend on the type of lymphoma you have, your age, and your other health problems.
How is lymphoma treated? — Doctors can treat lymphoma in different ways. People with some forms of lymphoma get treated right away. But people with lymphoma that is growing slowly and not causing symptoms often do not need treatment at first.
People with lymphoma often have one or more of the following treatments:
Chemotherapy – Chemotherapy is the medical term for medicines that kill cancer cells or stop them from growing.
Immunotherapy – These are medicines that kill cancer cells by attacking the lymphoma cells.
Radiation therapy – Radiation kills cancer cells.
Bone marrow transplant (also called "stem cell transplant") – This treatment replaces cells in the bone marrow that are killed by chemotherapy or radiation.
What happens after treatment? — After treatment, you will be checked every so often to see if the lymphoma comes back. Regular follow up will include talking with your doctor and having exams. Sometimes, your doctor will also do blood tests or imaging tests. Plus, you should watch for the symptoms listed above, because having those symptoms could mean the cancer has come back. Tell your doctor or nurse if you have any symptoms.
What happens if the lymphoma comes back? — If the lymphoma comes back, you might have more chemotherapy, immunotherapy, radiation, or a bone marrow transplant.
What else should I do? — It is important to follow all your doctors' instructions about visits and tests. It's also important to talk to your doctor about any side effects or problems you have during treatment.
Getting treated for lymphoma involves making many choices, such as what treatment to have and when.
Always let your doctors and nurses know how you feel about a treatment. Any time you are offered a treatment, ask:
What are the benefits of this treatment? Is it likely to help me live longer? Will it reduce or prevent symptoms?
What are the risks to this treatment?
Are there other options besides this treatment?
What happens if I do not have this treatment?
All topics are updated as new evidence becomes available and our peer review process is complete.
This topic retrieved from UpToDate on: Mar 30, 2020.
Topic 15492 Version 13.0
Release: 28.2.2 - C28.105
© 2020 UpToDate, Inc. and/or its affiliates. All rights reserved.