Lymphoma refers to malignant tumors of the lymph system. The lymph system, which is part of the immune system, is a series of nodes or glands located in numerous places throughout the body, connected by a network of vessels which carry lymph fluid, or white blood cells. Cancer that affects this system is considered quite serious because it can spread throughout the body via the lymph vessels. Recent advances in medicine have made it more treatable than ever before, however, and there has been much success in defeating it.
There are several different kinds of lymphoma, divided into two basic categories: Hodgkin's lymphoma, named after Dr. T. Hodgkin, and non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. Within each category, there are subtypes or classifications. While Hodgkin's has five subtypes, there are about 35 recognized types of cancer that fall into the non-Hodgkin's category, and differentiating between them can be difficult.
Regardless of category, each classification or subtype behaves differently and, in most cases, requires its own specific treatment regimen. Therefore, careful diagnosis is necessary. If an oncologist is part of a research board working through a university, a patient may have the advantage of his case being presented before a review board to gain a consensus on the pathology or type of cancer, staging, and treatment. If not, it's a good idea for patients to seek a second opinion from another experienced oncologist who will review the test results and make his or her own diagnosis.
Some types of lymphoma are tougher to fight than others, but generally speaking, this disease responds to treatment in most cases. The main concern is a tendency for recurrence with certain types. Chemotherapy and radiation can also produce long-term effects years after the cancer has been sent into remission, but this situation is expected to improve with time as medical advancements continue to be made.
Among promising new treatments for this type of cancer are biological drugs, such as rituxamab. This man-made antibody attaches itself to a substance called CD20, found on the surface of many types of lymphoma cells. In attaching itself, it kills the cancer cell without affecting nearby healthy cells. This is a significant improvement over chemotherapy and radiation treatments, which kill healthy and cancerous cells alike. Other types of man-made antibodies are also in use, and research is ongoing.
There is no recognized cause for lymphoma at this time, though the medical community suspects some types might be caused by a virus. People with this form of cancer, or who know someone who has been diagnosed with it, should remember that there are likely many reasons to be hopeful and positive that a full recovery can be made.