Lymphoma is a cancer of the lymphatic system, which is comprised of lymph nodes, the thymus gland, and bone marrow; all of which help make up our immune system. Lymphoma attacks lymphocytes, a type of white blood cell that helps protect the body.
There are two main categories of lymphoma: Hodgkin’s lymphoma and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma (NHL). Both attack the lymphatic system, but each has a different treatment plan and prognosis. Hodgkin’s lymphoma is very rare and only accounts for 10% of the diagnosed cases of lymphoma.
The disease is characterized by the presence of an atypical cell called the Reed-Sternberg cell. Hodgkin’s lymphoma is the most treatable form of cancer. Still, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma has a much better prognosis than it once did, with a 71.4% recovery rate. The symptoms of both types of lymphoma are often missed at first, because they are so similar to other, less serious disorders.
As with any illness, early detection is key to gain a diagnosis and effective treatment plan; but it is all about tuning into the warning signs of this disease, and booking a visit to your doctor for assessment. Therefore, below are the 10 most common symptoms of lymphoma to look out for.
The most common symptom of lymphoma is enlarged lymph nodes. Lymph nodes can be found throughout the body. They are a part of the lymphatic system that filters lymph fluid, trapping bacteria, which will later be destroyed by lymphocytes. Under normal circumstances, they cannot be felt, but certain lymph nodes that are located closest to the skin can be felt as small lumps when they are enlarged. The areas that are most noticeable when they are swollen include the lymph nodes located on the sides of the neck, the underarm region, the groin, or directly above the collar bone. It’s important to note that enlarged lymph nodes do not necessarily mean that you have lymphoma, and are more commonly a sign of infection. Still, if you or a loved one notice enlarged lymph nodes, a visit to the doctor is highly recommended.
As lymphoma spreads throughout the body, it can greatly impact the digestive system by crowding the organs that surround the stomach. The increased size of the spleen can cause it to press on the stomach, giving and individual a sudden feeling of fullness after eating only a small amount of food. If the lymphoma is present in the stomach or intestines, a blockage may lead to a loss of appetite as well, accompanied by stomach pain, nausea, and vomiting. Any type of drastic change in appetite that continues for more than a week is never normal, and should be assessed further by your physician.
Rapid Weight Loss
While most of us wish that we could lose weight instantaneously, rapid weight loss without a change in diet or exercise is always a red flag that something is not right. A large decrease in weight is common in many types of cancers and is particularly noticeable in lymphoma cases. This is partially due to the loss of appetite that lymphoma brings on, and it is also related to the strain that the cancer puts on a person’s body. The tumor cells feed on the nutrients that your body is able to take in, leaving you malnourished and weak; thus, rapid weight loss occurs.
One of the most noticeable symptoms for victims of lymphoma is the extreme, unexplainable fatigue that completely engulfs them. Even the smallest tasks become completely exhausting, and day-to-day activities that used to be effortless, now seem impossible. The body is worn down from lack of nutrients and battling cancer cells. Lack of appetite also enhances this fatigue. On top of the ordinary demands that cancer puts on the body, lymphoma lowers the body’s red blood cell count, leading to anemia and even greater fatigue.
As a result, lymphoma sufferers struggle with daily routines (e.g. preparing a meal, paying bills, and grocery shopping) exhausting; and will need assistance in carry out these activities from caretakers and loved ones.
A fever is a clear-cut sign that of an infection or illness has taken over the body. Unfortunately, an unexplainable fever, unrelated to illness is quite uncommon. If you are having a recurring fever that is not caused by a specific sickness, this could be a sign that something more serious is going on, especially if you have noticed any other symptoms common with lymphoma. If you find that you or a loved one has suffered through a fever, for more than ten days, it is vital to book a visit with your family physician. Lymphoma aside, a fever that does not subside in over a week indicates something is quite wrong within your body, where medical attention may be needed.
One of the main symptoms of lymphoma is a problem regulating temperature. The body switches back and forth from fever and chills to excessive sweating. The sweating is the worst at nighttime; and many patients complain of waking up in the middle of the night to clothing and bedding that is completely drenched. This is believed to be caused by the overactive immune system trying to rid the body of toxins.
It’s important to note, that before you get too overly concerned with night sweats, check the temperature of your bed room. Are you covering yourself up with too much bedding at night? Perhaps you are over-dressed with heavy pajamas? While night sweats are closely linked to lymphoma, they can also be a warning sign for other illnesses and conditions, such as menopause, and bacterial infections.
As mentioned above, there are two main types of lymphoma: Hodgkin’s lymphoma and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. About 15 percent of all non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma in America, are T-cell lymphomas – and the most common form of this type of lymphoma is cutaneous T-cell lymphoma (CTCL), which targets the skin.
As the lymphoma cells grow, they secrete a chemical that causes a generalized itchiness and irritation of the skin throughout the body. This chemical by-product may also produce small red bumps on the skin outside of the body where the lymphoma is located. The skin lesions are particularly itchy and may not respond well to typical over-the-counter medicine used to treat itching. Symptoms may start off as dry skin, and then turn into an itchy, unbearable rash.
Lymphoma can leave patients feeling out of breath even with minimal activity. There can be several different causes for this, but all are due to crowding of the respiratory system. As the lymph nodes increase in size, those with lymphoma are no longer able to take in full, deep breaths. This inability for proper oxygenation is compounded if the lymphoma starts in the thymus; it may press on the trachea, causing, even more, difficulty breathing. This lack of proper oxygenation only adds to the already prevalent fatigue. This symptom makes daily exercise, or even the simplest task of a lighting cleaning in one’s house, exhausting.
Even though lymphoma can cause you to lose weight, if it is located near the abdomen, it will make the stomach appear swollen. This is related to both the enlarged lymph nodes and a build-up of large amounts of fluid in the abdomen. The abdomen will also become increasingly tender. Additional symptoms that are related to abdominal swelling including a feeling of pressure in that area, pain, as well as indigestion, and potentially diarrhea.
A loss of weight combined with an increase in the circumference of the abdomen does not just occur in lymphoma, but it definitely signifies a serious health problem and need for further medical assessment to determine the cause.
Lymphoma affects the amount red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets in the body. The low white blood cell count associated with lymphoma attacks one’s immune system, and leaves the body helpless, and incapable of fighting off infection. Bacteria that the body could normally defend itself against is no longer strong enough to battle infections, and a lymphoma sufferer is now susceptible to anything from the common cold, to severe illnesses.
It is important that lymphoma patients avoid contact with any possible contaminants that could lead to future illness. Hand-in-hand with the weight loss, fatigue, and compromised immune system, an illness can be a death sentence for a sufferer of lymphoma.