Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma: Causes and Risk Factors
Non-Hodgkin lymphoma is when cancer occurs in the lymphoma. It is the 10th most common cancer for women, and the 7th most common for men around the world.
In the UAE, it is the 5th most common in incidence for women, and 4th for men according to a study by the World Health Organization. Many studies based in the UAE and studies around the world have identified that the number of people contracting Non-Hodgkins disease is on the rise, hence why awareness and treatment also need more attention.
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Non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL) is cancer that occurs in the lymphatic system. In this case, tumours will develop from the lymphocytes. A lymphocyte is a type of white blood cell.
Many types of cancers can spread to the lymph nodes, however, when cancer starts in the lymph tissues will be considered lymphomas. NHL should not be mistaken with Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
The difference between the two conditions is that Hodgkin’s lymphoma has the presence of an abnormal cell called the Reed-Sternberg cell and is not present in NHL. NHL and Hodgkin’s lymphoma need different types of treatment. NHL is the more common type of cancer.
Symptoms of NHL include:
- Cramping or pain in the abdominal region
- Chest pain
- Difficulty breathing or catching breath
- Unexplained weight loss
- Night sweats
As a lot of these symptoms are also symptoms of other illnesses, you should check with your doctor if you notice multiple symptoms or if these symptoms gradually become more severe.
The main causes of Non-Hodgkin lymphoma are still unknown as doctors and researchers continue to learn more about the cause factors. NHL does have a higher chance of occurrence when the body produces too many abnormal lymphocytes. These abnormal cells don’t die, but they do continue to grow and divide and result in enlarged lymph nodes.
Although there are risk factors that we can keep an eye on for NHL, they are not as obvious as we’d like to be able to diagnose it sooner. It is still possible to have multiple risk factors and never develop NHL.
This is why it’s important to speak with your doctor if you suspect any of the symptoms or have any of the risk factors or health conditions below:
- Old age as most people with the disease are 60 or older
- Use of immunosuppressant drugs
- An infection including HIV or Epstein-Barr virus
- Exposure to certain chemicals such as weed killer or bug spray
Types of Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma
There are different types of NHL and are categorized by the structure of the cells. This is usually determined when doctors look at the cells under a microscope during diagnosis. The different types of NHL are:
- B-cell Lymphoma
- Large B-cell lymphoma
- Follicular lymphoma
- Burkitt’s lymphoma
- Lymphoplasmacytic mantle cell lymphoma
- Mediastinal large B-cell lymphoma
- Marginal zone B-cell lymphoma
- Small lymphocytic lymphoma
Physical exams with your doctor are the first step to seeing whether you have the condition or not. There are numerous types of tests you can undertake with your doctor to diagnose NHL and which particular type it is.
Your doctor is likely to conduct imaging tests to identify where the tumour is in the body and what stage cancer may have potentially developed. Imaging tests include:
- CT scan
- MRI scan
- PET scan
- Biopsy test
Like most other cancer treatments, treatments for NHL will depend on your age, the type of NHL you have, and the stage of cancer it has reached. For NHL, your doctor may not treat it immediately if it is growing very slowly and does not show symptoms.
Treatment is then given as the condition progresses. If the condition is severe and cancer becomes fatal, immediate treatment is needed. When the cancer cells begin to grow more rapidly, more aggressive treatments can be done and the two most common are:
- Chemotherapy – A medication commonly used for cancer patients, chemotherapy can be taken orally or by injection and works to kill cancer cells and slow the growth rate of the tumour.
- Radiation therapy – Using high power beams of energy, they work to kill cancer cells and get rid of the tumour.
Other types of treatments include stem cell transplant and medication that can enhance and boost your immune system.
There is still no sure way that NHL can be prevented, however, doctors do advise that managing a healthy weight and avoiding the risk factors of NHL can help to minimize the risk of contracting the condition.
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