Lymphoma is a cancer of lymphocytes, which are infection-fighting cells of the body’s lymphatic system. The lymphatic system is made up of organs all over the body that make and store cells that fight infection.
When people have lymphoma, their lymphocytes become abnormal and grow out of control. These cells can then travel to different parts of the body. Often, the abnormal cells collect in small, bean-shaped organs called lymph nodes. This causes the lymph nodes to swell.
There are different types of lymphoma. Some types grow very slowly. Other types grow much faster. Sometimes, people start out with a slow-growing type of lymphoma that later becomes fast-growing.
The first sign of lymphoma is often one or more large, swollen lymph nodes. These swollen lymph nodes can be felt under the skin, but are usually not painful. They are often in the neck, groin, armpit, or stomach.
Lymph nodes deeper in the body can also become swollen and cause symptoms. For example, swollen lymph nodes around the lungs can cause a cough or trouble breathing.
Other symptoms of lymphoma include:
- Weight loss
- Night sweats that soak your clothes
All of these symptoms can also be caused by conditions that are not lymphoma. But if you have these symptoms, you should let a doctor or nurse know.
A doctor or nurse will do an exam and ask about symptoms. He or she might order other tests, including:
- Lymph node biopsy – A doctor will remove all or part of the swollen lymph node. Then another doctor will look at cells under a microscope to see if lymphoma is present.
- Bone marrow biopsy – A small sample of bone marrow, which is the spongy tissue in the center of some bones, will be removed with a needle and examined under a microscope to see if it has lymphoma.
- Other biopsy – In some cases, a small sample of other abnormal tissues will be removed to check for lymphoma.
- CT scan, PET scan, or other imaging tests – These tests create pictures of the inside of your body and can show abnormal growths.
People with lymphoma often have one or more of the following treatments:
- Chemotherapy – Chemotherapy is the medical term for medicines that kill cancer cells or stop them from growing.
- Immunotherapy – These are medicines that kill cancer cells by attacking the lymphoma cells.
- Radiation therapy – Radiation kills cancer cells.
- Bone marrow transplant (also called “stem cell transplant”) – This treatment replaces cells in the bone marrow that are killed by chemotherapy or radiation.