Lymphoma is a cancer that originates in the cells of the immune system. While the majority of lymphoma sufferers are over the age of 60 years, this disease is known to affect both adults and children. It is estimated that close to 75,000 people will be diagnosed with lymphoma and over 21,000 people will die from lymphoma in 2010.
There are two basic categories of lymphomas. The Hodgkin lymphoma subtype which is characterized the presence of Reed-Sternberg cells, a lymphoid cell (usually a clonal B cell) that is very large in nature with an abundant pale cytoplasm and two or more oval nuclei. The diagnosis of Hodgkin lymphoma is much rarer compared to its counterpart, non-Hodgkin lymphoma. The first sign of Hodgkin disease is often an enlarged lymph node; followed by the spreading to nearby lymph nodes and later to the lungs, liver or bone marrow. Symptoms of this condition include:
- Painless swelling of the lymph nodes in the neck, armpits or groin
- Fever and chills
- Night sweats
- Weight loss and loss of appetite
- Itchy skin
The other subtype of lymphoma is known as non-Hodgkin lymphomas. This subtype is much more abundant that Hodgkin lymphoma and consists of a diverse group of cancers of immune system cells. Non-Hodgkin lymphomas are further divided into cancers that are slow-growing or less aggressive and those that have aggressive, fast-growing properties. Non-Hodgkin lymphoma can cause many symptoms including:
- Swollen, painless lymph nodes in the neck, armpits or groin
- Unexplained weight loss
- Soaking night sweats
- Coughing, trouble breathing or chest pain
- Weakness and tiredness that don't go away
Compared to Hodgkin disease, this subtype is more likely to be characterized by extranodal lymphoma in abdomen symptoms such as abdominal pain and swelling, as well as a feeling of fullness or loss of appetite.
Both these two subtypes of lymphomas behave and respond to treatment differently. They can both occur in children and adults and their prognosis and treatment depend on both the stage and the type of cancer.