A diagnosis of lymphoma can upend lives, triggering a cascade of questions and uncertainties. From understanding the nature of lymphoma to grasping the treatment choices, this article is your guide through the extensive information surrounding this condition. Whether you’re a patient grappling with the diagnosis or a support pillar for someone facing it, this article aims to provide clarity and insights, offering a roadmap for the journey ahead.
What is Lymphoma?
Lymphoma is a type of cancer that originates in the lymphatic system, which is a vital part of our immune system. This intricate network of lymph nodes, vessels, and organs like the spleen and thymus plays a pivotal role in defending the body against infections and diseases.
When lymphocytes, the white blood cells that safeguard our immunity, begin to grow uncontrollably and abnormally, it can give rise to lymphoma. There are two main categories: Hodgkin lymphoma and non-Hodgkin lymphoma, each possessing distinct characteristics and subtypes.
Types of Lymphomas
Lymphoma is a type of cancer that originates in the lymphatic system, which is a vital part of our immune system. While there are more than 60 types of lymphomas, the two most common types are Hodgkin Lymphoma and Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma. The difference between the two is the presence of Reed-Sternberg cells in Hodgkin Lymphoma and the absence of them in Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma.
Despite their differences, they both have similar symptoms including swelling of the lymph nodes in the armpits, neck or groin, fever and night sweats, persistent fatigue and unintentional weight loss.
Hodgkin Lymphoma VS Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma
Some patients may wonder if Non-Hodgkin’s or Hodgkin’s Lymphoma is worse. The prognosis of Lymphoma depends on a combination of the stage of the disease (which refers to the extent of spread of the Lymphoma), as well as the histology grade of the Lymphoma (which is the biopsy analysis which informs us on the subtype of Lymphoma).
Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma is more common than Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, but patients with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma tend to be younger and present earlier in disease stage.
In general, patients with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma tend to have a better response to treatment and an improved overall outcome compared to patients with non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.
Similarly for survival rates, Hodgkin’s Lymphoma is known to be one of the most treatable forms of cancer and often has a better outlook than Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. However, various factors contribute to one’s prognosis, including the stage and specific type of cancer, along with age and overall health.
How Does Lymphoma Affect The Body?
Lymphoma can affect the body as it spreads, causing certain symptoms that can disrupt everyday life.
While lymphoma begins in the lymphatic system, it tends to spread first to the lungs, bone marrow and liver. Lymphoma can also affect the immune system as it might not work as well as it should for several reasons. The lymphocytes that grow out of control do not work properly. If you have too many of these abnormal lymphocytes and not enough healthy lymphocytes, your body cannot fight infections as well as normal.
These changes to the body can also cause fatigue. Patients diagnosed with Lymphoma often describe fatigue related to the condition as feeling weak, listless, and drained. Some may even feel too tired to eat or visit the bathroom.
What is Lymphoma Treatment Like?
It is important to consult with your healthcare provider on your treatment plan as certain complications can arise if lymphoma is left untreated. However, this often depends on the sub-type of Lymphoma. Some low-grade forms of Lymphoma can be very slow progressing and may just need observation with no active therapy. However, high-grade sub-types of Lymphoma can be very aggressive, and patients can become unwell in a matter of weeks to months without proper treatment.
Patients may wonder how long treatment is for lymphoma. Most Lymphoma cases are treated with a combination of chemotherapy agents and sometimes targeted therapy. Patients are often treated in cycles of therapy using the same drug combination every few weeks to gradually eliminate the Lymphoma. Patients usually receive 6-8 cycles of treatment depending on the disease stage and sub-type. Upfront treatment for Lymphoma can last typically for 4-6 months.
Bone marrow transplant is usually offered to lymphoma patients with high risk subtypes or if they have experienced a relapse after going through other types of cancer treatments like chemotherapy or radiation therapy.
Additionally, CAR-T cell therapy has been shown to be effective in patients with B-cell Lymphoma who have relapsed or with refractory diffuse large B-cell Lymphoma, transformed follicular Lymphoma, as well as primary mediastinal B-cell Lymphoma. In Singapore, the current approved form of CAR-T cell therapy is indicated for patients with diffuse large B-cell Lymphoma who have previously failed at least 2 lines of standard treatment.
The prognosis of Lymphoma depends on a combination of the stage of the disease (which refers to the extent of spread of the Lymphoma), as well as the histology grade of the Lymphoma. While stage 3-4 Lymphomas are common, they can still be very treatable and often curable, depending on the NHL subtype. Stage III and IV are now considered a single category because they have the same treatment and prognosis.
Find Guidance and Manage Lymphoma with CFCH
Understanding what lymphoma entails, its types, and treatment options empowers you to make informed decisions about your health. If you’re seeking guidance, support, or a comprehensive approach to managing lymphoma, we are here to help. Our experienced team at CFCH is dedicated to providing personalised care, answering your questions, and offering the latest information on lymphoma treatments in Singapore.