What is Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma?
Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma is a type of cancer of the lymphocytes, a type of white blood cell of the body’s immune system. When these cells become abnormal, they grow uncontrollably and become cancerous. The growth of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma can start anywhere these lymphocytes are, including the lymph nodes, spleen, and bone marrow.
Some cancers have screening tests available to help look for cancer development early before cancer starts causing any symptoms. Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma has no screening tests available and is discovered when evaluating the cause of symptoms.
Risk factors for Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma
Some of the risk factors for developing non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma can include:
● Increasing age
● Family history of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma
● Exposure to chemicals such as benzine or pesticides
● History of radiation exposure
● Having a history of autoimmune disorders
● History of HIV infection
Symptoms of Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma
Symptoms of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma can include:
● Fevers, chills, night sweats
● Unintentional weight loss
● Appetite changes
● Enlarged lymph nodes
● Bleeding or easy bruising
● Frequent infections
● Abdominal pain
● Difficulty breathing
Tests for Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma
If you present to your healthcare provider for any of the above symptoms, they will likely start with a physical examination and evaluation of your history. They will pay particular attention to any lymph nodes that can be felt and examine the abdomen to see if the spleen is enlarged. Blood work may also be done to evaluate the blood count and see how many white blood cells, red blood cells, and platelets are present. Other blood tests may also be done to check for infection, inflammation, or other disorders.
Imaging studies such as a CT scan, ultrasound, or PET scan may be ordered to get a better picture of any enlarged lymph nodes in the body and to see if they look suspicious for lymphoma involvement.
The ultimate diagnosis of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma is made after a biopsy. If a lymph node is felt from the outside or a lymph node found on imaging studies that are easy to access for a biopsy, this will likely be done.
Either a sample of tissue from the lymph node can be removed through a needle aspiration, or the entire lymph node can be removed and tested for the presence of lymphoma.
Non-Hodgkin lymphoma is the seventh most common cancer in the United States. The best way to screen for this type of cancer is through a physical examination and blood tests. However, there are other ways to screen for this type of cancer, including imaging tests and biopsies. If you have any symptoms that concern you, please see your doctor immediately. Early detection is key to the successful treatment of this disease.