What is Lymphoma?
Lymphomas are cancers arising from lymphocytes, which are a
fundamental part of the immune system and which help to protect
the body from disease. Lymphomas include Hodgkin’s Disease and
various classifications and sub-types of non-Hodgkin’s lymphomas.
In addition to a network of lymph vessels and nodes throughout
the body, the lymphatic system also includes the bone marrow,
spleen, thymus gland, tonsil, and appendix.
Lymphoma is the fifth most common form of cancer in Canada.
An estimated 7,890 new cases of lymphoma have been diagnosed in
Canada in 2008. Lymphomas now account for approximately 5% of
all Canadians with cancer.
There are two primary forms of lymphoma. Hodgkin’s Disease
accounts for about 11% of all Canadian lymphomas and is generally
considered one of the more curable cancers. Non-Hodgkin’s lymphomas
are more prevalent and their cure rates depend on the
type or sub-type, the stage, the grade and various prognostic
factors. There are more than 30 types and sub-types of
The incidence of the more prevalent forms of lymphoma, non-Hodgkin’s
lymphomas, has increased significantly over the past several
decades in Canada. The incidence of Non-Hodgkin's lymphoma in both
males and females has stabilized. Until recently, Non-Hodgkin's lymphoma
seemed to develop more frequently as people got older, but there has been
a marked increase of Non-Hodgkin's lymphoma in children and young
Non-Hodgkin's lymphoma is complex in that there are many different classifications,
as well as sub-types and stages of Non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, each with varying treatment
options and cure rates. One current hypothesis is that Non-Hodgkin's lymphoma is
actually a group of closely related cancers, in which infectious
agents and/ or environmental/ occupational exposures may play
a role. Some of the challenges of living with lymphomas may
include their unpredictability and their recurrence.
This diagram represents where key lymph nodes are situated throughout the human body.
It has been estimated that there are about 600 lymph nodes in the body. The numbers in the
diagram denote areas of lymph nodes that frequently are involved in Hodgkin and other lymphomas.
These areas of lymph nodes occur around the ears (1) and around the jaw (2). They comprise the
tonsils and adenoids (3), are found in the front and back of the neck (4), above and below the
collar bone (5), in the armpit (6), near the elbow (7), in the chest (8), in the abdomen (9), in the
pelvis (10) and in the groin (11). The spleen (S) contains many clusters of lymphocytes. These
clusters may be involved in the malignant process, grow, and lead to involvement and enlargement
of the spleen. The gut-associated (intestinal) lymph tissue (G) may also be the site of lymphoma
development. Lymphomas are cancers that begin with the malignant transformation of a lymphocyte
in the lymphatic system. "Lymph-" indicates that the disease begins in a lymphocyte and "-oma"
is a Greek suffix denoting a tumor.
The symptoms of lymphoma are commonly seen in other, less
serious illnesses, such as influenza or other viral infection.
These symptoms are often overlooked, but in cases of less serious
illnesses they would not last very long. With lymphoma, these
symptoms persist over time and cannot be explained by an infection
or another disease. The checklist below lists the most common
symptoms of lymphoma.
Due to the common nature of these symptoms and because lymphoma
symptoms do not appear in all cases, diagnosis is often problematic.
If you suspect that you, a family member, friend, or loved one
may have lymphoma, see your doctor or qualified medical professional
as soon as possible. Early diagnosis makes an impact on treatment
"The most common symptoms of lymphoma are:
- Painless swelling in a lymph node
- Chills/temperature swings
- Recurrent Fevers and
- Excessive sweating at night
- Unintentional weight loss
- Loss of appetite
- Persistent tiredness and
- Lack of energy
- Breathlessness and Coughing
- Persistent itch all over the body without an apparent cause or rash
- General fatigue
- Enlarged tonsils
*Because of the common nature of these symptoms and because lymphoma symptoms do not appear in all cases, diagnosis is often problematic.”1
Symptoms of more advanced lymphoma may
include the following:
- In certain instances, people feel pain in the lymph nodes
after drinking alcohol.
- If the lymphoma involves lymphatic tissue within the abdomen,
bowel or stomach, fluid may build up causing swelling near
the intestines potentially leading to sensations of abdominal
pressure, pain, diarrhea and/or indigestion.
- The enlarged lymph node sometimes causes other symptoms
by pressing against a vein (causing a swelling of an arm or
leg), or against a nerve (causing pain, numbness, or tingling
in an arm or leg).
- Some people experience lower back pain that is unexplained.
It is thought that this may be caused by expanding lymph nodes
pressing on nerves.
- As lymphomas progress and cancerous lymphocytes spread beyond
the lymphatic system, the body loses its ability to fight
infection. The generalized symptoms that develop may be confused
with signs of influenza, tuberculosis (TB), other infections
such as infectious mononucleosis (‘mono’) or other cancers.
What Are The Risk Factors?
"There is no single cause of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, but some factors appear to increase the risk of developing it:
- being older and male
- having a weakened immune system due to:
- take immuno-suppressant drugs after an organ transplant;
- HIV / AIDS;
- autoimmune diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis or Sjogren syndrome;
- inherited disorders such as ataxiatelangiectasia or Wiskott-Aldrich syndrome;
- infections such as human T-cell leukemia / lymphoma virus (HTLV-1),
Epstein Barr virus or Helicobacter pylori (a bacteria);
- exposure to pesticides;
- previous treatment with radiation or chemotherapy.
Most people develop non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma without any
of these risk factors."2
2p. 3, non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. Understanding your diagnosis.
Canadian Cancer Society brochure
"Most people with Hodgkin lymphoma are between 15 and 35, or older than 55.
It affects more men than women. There is no single cause of Hodgkin lymphoma, but
some factors increase the risk of developing it:
- Epstein Barr virus (a virus that causes infectious mononucleosis ('mono') or glandular fever);
- HIV (human immunodeficiency virus);
- family history of Hodgkin lymphoma (especially in a parent, sister or brother).
Some people develop Hodgkin lymphoma without any of these risk factors."
3p. 3, Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. Understanding your diagnosis.
Canadian Cancer Society brochure