What Are the Symptoms of Hodgkin's Lymphoma?
Your white blood cells are vital components of the immune system. Symptoms of Hodgkin’s lymphoma can develop in some people to cause a variety of symptoms in the body. Knowing what to look out for can help patients get a diagnosis sooner.
What Is Hodgkin’s Lymphoma?
Hodgkin’s Lymphoma is cancer of the lymphatic system; a key part of the immune system. Lymphomas are cancers that start in the lymphocytes, which are your white blood cells. Cells become cancer once they start to grow out of control. When cells in the lymphatic system grow abnormally and the mutated cells become overpopulated, it results in Hodgkin’s lymphoma. This cancer is one of the two common types of cancers of the lymphatic system.
The Lymphatic System
The lymphatic system is made up of lymph vessels, lymph nodes and lymphatic organs throughout the body. The job of this system is to help your body fight off infection and disease and help control the flow of fluids in the body.
The main types of lymphocytes are:
- B lymphocytes (B cells). These make proteins called antibodies to help protect the body from germs (bacteria and viruses). Hodgkin’s lymphoma usually starts in the B cells.
- T lymphocytes (T cells). There are many types of T cells that serve a variety of functions. Some T cells destroy germs or abnormal cells. Other T cells help boost or slow the activity of other immune system cells.
Symptoms of Hodgkin’s Lymphoma
Hodgkin’s lymphoma usually starts in a group of lymph nodes in one part of the body. Many times, it starts in the chest, neck, or under the arms and spreads throughout lymph vessels via the lymph nodes. Symptoms that result from the growth and spread of Hodgkin’s Lymphoma may include:
- Swelling of lymph nodes in the neck, armpits, or groin
- Persistent fatigue
- Night sweats
- Unexplained weight loss
- Itchy skin
- Increased sensitivity to alcohol
Hodgkin’s lymphoma sometimes causes systemic symptoms (also called B symptoms); these are generalized symptoms that affect the whole body. Systemic symptoms include unexplained fevers, night sweats and weight loss. If there are any symptoms that concern you or if there are symptoms that persist, make an appointment to see your doctor.
Classic Hodgkin’s Lymphoma
Classic Hodgkin’s lymphoma accounts for approximately 90% of cases in developed countries. The cancer cells in classic Hodgkin’s lymphoma are usually found in an abnormal type of B cell: the Reed-Sternberg cells. Classic Hodgkin’s lymphoma has four subtypes:
- Nodular Sclerosis Hodgkin’s lymphoma (NSCHL). This is the most common type of classic Hodgkin’s Lymphoma and accounts for about 70% of cases. This type usually starts in the lymph nodes in the neck or chest.
- Mixed Cellularity Hodgkin’s lymphoma (MCCHL). This is the second most common type of classic Hodgkin’s lymphoma and it is found in about 40% of cases. MCCHL is diagnosed mostly in those with HIV infection, children and the elderly.
- Lymphocyte-rich Hodgkin’s lymphoma. This type of Hodgkin’s Lymphoma is not common. When diagnosed, it is rarely found in more than a few lymph nodes in the upper half of the body.
- Lymphocyte-depleted Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Another rare form of Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, this type is found mainly in older people and those with HIV infection. It’s more likely to be in advanced stages when it is first discovered in the body and is more aggressive than other types of Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Lymphocyte-depleted Hodgkin’s lymphoma is often in the lymph nodes of the abdomen, spleen, liver and bone marrow.
Risks of Hodgkin’s Lymphoma
One of the first risks is age. Hodgkin’s lymphoma can affect people of any age. It’s often diagnosed in those between 15 and 30, and those over 55. Family history is held accountable too. If you have a blood relative who contracted Hodgkin’s lymphoma or non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, it increases your risk.
Gender plays a role too. Research shows that males are slightly more likely to develop Hodgkin’s lymphoma. And, if you have ever had the Epstein-Barr infection, you are more at risk. People who have had illnesses caused by the Epstein-Barr virus are more prone to getting Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
Causes of Hodgkin’s Lymphoma
A definitive cause of Hodgkin’s lymphoma has not been identified by doctors, but they understand how the illness grows. Hodgkin’s Lymphoma begins when a lymphocyte develops a genetic mutation. The mutated cell multiplies rapidly, causing an abundance of abnormal lymphocytes to crowd out healthy cells and cause the symptoms of Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
What Are the Treatment Options?
Since there are various types of Hodgkin’s lymphoma in existence, diagnosis and treatment will vary. There are several factors to consider with treatment, including the stage of cancer, the types of cells involved, lymphoma symptoms, whether the cancer is new, growing, or recurring, and the patient’s age, gender, and overall health.
A diagnosis will help determine the course of treatment that is best for each specific case. To get a diagnosis, many tests may be performed. These tests may include a physical examination, complete blood count, blood chemistry studies, hepatitis B and C tests, HIV test, lactic dehydrogenase test, sedimentation rate, CT or PET scan, lymph node biopsy, MRI, and an ultrasound.
The treatments that are available each have their own side effects and things to consider before starting. The four most common treatments are:
- Radiation therapy
- Targeted therapy
Pregnant patients have a couple other treatment options which include watchful waiting and steroid therapy. Clinical trials are always ongoing, so you may think about participating in one of these ground-breaking trials. Patients respond to treatment differently, so be sure to consult with your medical team to pick the most appropriate options for you.
As soon as you notice symptoms, make an appointment with your doctor. Similar to other types of cancer, treatment is generally more effective if a diagnosis and treatment plan commences as soon as possible. Knowing the signs of Hodgkin’s lymphoma will help you know if there are any issues that need to be immediately addressed.