Lymphoma is the fifth most common type of cancer in the UK and there are over 60 different types. Hodgkin lymphoma is fast-growing and can spread throughout the body, so recognising symptoms is very important. There are a number of common symptoms associated with lymphoma to watch out, according to Lymphoma Action – one, similar to other types of cancer, is a lump. But it is also important to be aware all the symptoms can be liked to other conditions and do not necessarily mean someone has lymphoma.
Symptoms of lymphoma
One of the most common symptoms listed by the charity is a lump or lumps, usually in the neck, armpit or groin. These are swollen lymph nodes (glands) and they’re usually painless.
Other symptoms include:
- Fatigue for no obvious reason and of a nature that continues even after sleep or rest.
- Unexplained weight loss – losing weight quickly over a short period of time without trying to.
- Sweats that often happen at night but can happen at any time of the day. They’re often called ‘drenching’ because they’re so severe. If you have them at night, they’re likely to soak your bed clothes and bedsheets.
- Itching (known as ‘pruritus’), which can happen either with or without a rash.
Different people are affected differently by lymphoma.
The charity explains: “Some people have lots of symptoms; others have very few (or even none and the lymphoma is found during tests for something else).
“You might have symptoms as a result of swollen lymph nodes (glands) pressing on nearby areas of your body.”
Depending on where in the body these are, a person with lymphoma may experience:
- Chest symptoms, such as coughing or breathlessness
- Abdominal (tummy) symptoms, such as a sense of fullness
- Skin symptoms, such as a rash or itching
- Pain (although this is uncommon)
- Brain and nerve symptoms (again, these are uncommon), such as fits (seizures), dizziness or weakness in an arm or leg
- Selling in your arms or legs
- Anaemia (low numbers of red blood cells), which can make you feel tired
Lymphoma Action adds: “Some symptoms of lymphoma affect your whole body (‘systemic symptoms’). They are caused by the chemicals produced by the lymphoma itself and your body’s reaction to the lymphoma. Systemic symptoms can include fever (in adults, this is a body temperature of over 38C and getting frequent infections that are difficult to get over.”
Causes and risk factors of lymphoma
While there are over 60 different types of lymphoma. In most cases, there are no known causes of lymphoma.
But most people have very little chance of developing lymphoma.
The following variables might have an effect on the risk of developing some types of lymphoma, says the charity:
- Age – Hodgkin lymphoma is more common in people aged 15 to 34 years and in the over 60s. Non-Hodgkin lymphoma is more common in people who are over 55 years old, with the highest rate of diagnosis in people aged 80 to 84.
- Sex – some types of lymphoma are more common in men while others are more common in women. Overall, more men than women get lymphoma.
- Family history – lymphoma is not inherited (passed from parent to child). However, your risk of developing lymphoma is slightly higher if you have a close relative (parent, brother or sister, or child) who has, or has had, lymphoma.
- Immune system problems – some medical conditions can cause problems with your immune system, which can slightly increase your risk of developing lymphoma. These include some conditions that are treated with immunosuppressive drugs, immunodeficiency disorders (such as HIV) and autoimmune problems.
- Some viruses can cause lymphoma in some people. This includes the Epstein–Barr virus (EBV), which causes glandular fever. It’s important to note, however, that EBV infection is very common and most people who have had EBV do not develop lymphoma.
What’s the outlook for lymphoma?
Most types of lymphoma are treatable, either with a view to curing the lymphoma or controlling it for as long as possible.
The charity explains: “Hodgkin lymphoma and fast-growing (high-grade) non-Hodgkin lymphoma are usually treated with the aim of sending the lymphoma into complete remission (no evidence of lymphoma on tests and scans after treatment). For most people with these types of lymphoma, the disease is unlikely to relapse after successful treatment.
“Slow-growing (low-grade) non-Hodgkin lymphoma is likely to respond well to treatment but it is unlikely to go into complete remission because the slow-growing cells in low-grade lymphomas are hard to get rid of completely. Low-grade lymphoma is usually treated with the aim of sending it into as good a partial remission as possible – reducing or controlling the lymphoma but not getting rid of it completely.”
The specific outlook for lymphoma depends on several factors, including the type of lymphoma you have, your response to treatment, and your general health, for example, whether you have other medical conditions.
The most common types of treatment for lymphoma are chemotherapy, radiotherapy and targeted drugs, such as antibody therapy.
Can lymphoma be prevented?
In most cases, the cause of lymphoma is not known so it’s hard to say what you can or can’t do, if anything, to prevent it, says the charity.
It adds: “It’s important, however, to see your GP promptly if you spot any of the possible signs and symptoms of lymphoma. Earlier diagnosis can often help to ensure that you receive timely treatment, should you need it.
“Unlike many other cancers, there’s little evidence that lifestyle has an effect on developing lymphoma. However, leading a healthy lifestyle is important to your general health, including lowering the risk of developing various types of cancer. It can also make it easier for your doctors to give you optimum treatment should you need it.
“Leading a healthy lifestyle includes maintaining a healthy weight, taking regular exercise, eating a healthy diet, not smoking, and managing stress.”
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