The lymphatic system is a part of the immune system. The immune system fights infections and other diseases. When cell development goes awry, the over-produced and abnormal cells can’t fight infections and can grow into a mass of tissue called a growth or tumor. The growths or tumors can be cancerous. Cancer of the lymphatic system is known as lymphoma.
There are several types of lymphoma. Symptoms of lymphoma may vary depending on the type you have. If you experience a few of the following symptoms, it may not be cancer, but it may be a good idea to get it checked out by your doctor:
• Painless swelling of the lymph nodes in your neck, armpits or groin
• Night sweats
• Unexplained weight loss
• Coughing, trouble breathing or chest pain
• Chronic tiredness or weakness
• Pain, swelling, or a feeling of fullness in the abdomen
If you suspect you may have lymphoma, it is important to discuss it with your doctor to assure early detection and treatment. Some questions you may want to ask are:
- What type of lymphoma do I have? May I have a copy of the report from the pathologist? Family history is a risk factor, so the doctor may ask about your family medical history, such as parents and siblings with cancer or non-Hodgkin's lymphoma (NHL). With swollen lymph nodes or other symptoms that indicate NHL, your doctor will perform some or all of the following tests to determine the cause:
• Physical exam
• Blood tests
• Chest X-rays
- Types of NHL are diffuse large B-cell lymphoma, and follicular lymphoma. Lymphomas are then designated as either indolent (low-grade, grows slower), or aggressive (intermediate- or high-grade, may grow and spread more quickly).
- What is the stage of my disease? Where are the tumors? Lymphoma generally starts in a lymph node and can spread to any part of the body (liver, lungs, bone, and bone marrow). Depending on results from initial and any additional tests, the doctor will designate what stage (ranges from I-IV, and recurrent) your lymphoma is and indicate where your tumors are.
- What are my treatment choices? Which do you recommend for me? Why? Treatment options depend on the type of NHL, staging, your age, and other health considerations you have. Your doctor may recommend watchful waiting, chemotherapy, biological, or radiation therapy, and/or stem cell transplantation.
- What side effects can I expect from treatment? Side effects differ from person to person, and may change with each treatment session. Before beginning any treatment, your health care professional will explain possible side effects to you. Chemotherapy and radiation therapy often damages healthy cells and tissues in the course of treatment, so side effects are common.
- How long will treatment last, and will I have to stay in the hospital? If so, for how long? Your health care professional will explain any anticipated hospital stays and the duration for each. Supportive care, including pain management and managing other symptoms during the course of treatment also may be necessary.
- What can I do to take care of myself during treatment? It is always a good idea to eat well, keep things simple, and exercise daily (even if it’s just walking) to keep your strength up. You will need a lot of rest, and it’s important to do so as often as you feel necessary. At times during treatment, you may develop an aversion to certain foods, or find it hard to eat. A dietitian recommended by your doctor can help you deal with those instances. While undergoing treatment it’s important to get enough calories and protein to maintain a good weight and improve your strength.
- What is the treatment likely to cost? Will my insurance cover the cost? Your doctor’s offices will work with you and any family you wish to explain costs and likely insurance coverages.
- Would a clinical trial be right for me? It is possible that a research study of new treatment may be a good fit for you. Discuss your desire to take part in one so your doctor can help find one right for you.
- How often will I need checkups? Your team of doctors will let you know how often you need follow-up care for your disease.
- What is the goal of treatment, and what outcome do we expect? Your treatment likely will be a process. Your team of doctors will explain their expectations, and goals for getting you the best possible outcome.
This information is not meant to be a replacement for talking with your doctor. Talk with your team of doctors to get the full picture for your particular case.
www.mayoclinic.com Non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma
www.medlineplus.com Non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma
www.cancer.gov “What You Need To Know About™ Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma” Booklet
Do you have more questions about cancer? Check out EmpowHER’s Non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma page. Sign-up, post a question, share your story, connect with other women in our community and feel EmpowHERed!
Christine Jeffries is a writer/editor for work and at heart, and lives in a home of testosterone with her husband and two sons. Christine is interested in women’s health and promoting strong women.