Lymphoma is a cancer of the lymphatic system.  The lymphatic system is part of the immune system, and fights off infection.  The system consists of thin tubes that connect with the lymph nodes (glands) throughout the body.  The tubes carry fluid called lymph that moves through the lymphatic system and then to the blood.  A lymph node is about the size of a pea and contains a large number of lymphocytes (type of white blood cell).  These cells divide and the new cells are abnormal.  The disease appears as a solid tumour (not liquid like blood) in the lymph nodes of the neck, chest, armpits and groin.

Other organs that are part of the lymphatic system are the bone marrow, spleen, thymus and tonsils.  The treatment of lymphoma depends on the type and the health and age of the patient.  Lymphoma can be treated by a Haematologist, and some Oncolgists also treat this disease.

Lymphoma is divided into two types:  Non-Hodgkin and Hodgkin Lymphoma

Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma (NHL)

NHL is a disease of the lymphatic system where the white blood cells do not work properly and the immune system is weakened.  This disease is known to be unpredictable in the way it spreads through the lymphatic system and there are 35 types of NHL. 

You tend to see NHL in people over the age of 65, but it can occur in younger people.  The glands swell up in the neck, groin and/or underarms, as this is where the cancer is formed.  NHL could be linked to a genetic problem, or caused by viruses or bacteria that get into the immune system.  One of the viruses that can cause NHL is the Epstein-Barr virus, but it does not mean that if you have the virus you will get NHL.  This disease can also be caused by exposure to radiation or certain chemicals. 

Treatment will depend on the type of NHL, whether the disease is slow or fast growing, the stage and the general health of the patient. Treatment options include:  radiotherapy, chemotherapy, targeted and biological medications and stem cell transplant.

Hodgkin Lymphoma (HL)

HL is a cancer of the lymphatic system, and new white blood cells are formed with a defect.  These cells accumulate in the lymph nodes (glands) and form a solid tumour here.  The defected cancer cell that causes HL is called the Reed-Sternberg cell, which can be seen under the microscope. 

This lymphoma is more common in teenagers and young adults from the age of 15-35.  It can develop as a result of a genetic defect, exposure to radiation or certain chemicals or a virus that has damaged the immune system.  The most common virus that can cause HL is called the Epstein-Barr virus, but it does not mean that if you have the virus you will get NHL.  50% of patients with HL will have had this viral infection. 

Treatment options include chemotherapy, biological and targeted drugs, and radiation therapy.

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