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  • What is lymphoma?

    What is Lymphoma?

    Lymphoma is a type of blood cancer that affects lymphocytes, the white blood cells that form part of the immune system to help fight infections.

    In lymphoma, either the B lymphocytes (B-cells) or T lymphocytes (T-cells) undergo a harmful change and grow out of control. These abnormal lymphocytes crowd out the healthy cells, affecting the normal functioning of the immune system.

    The main subtypes of lymphoma are:

    • Hodgkin's lymphoma – common in young adults 15 – 30 years old and adults over 50
    • Non-Hodgkin's lymphoma – common in older people

    Lymphoma can affect the lymphatic system, which includes the lymph nodes (lymph glands), spleen, thymus gland and bone marrow, as well as other organs in the body.

    Hodgkin's lymphoma:

    Several types of Hodgkin's lymphoma exist, which may include rarer forms that are difficult to identify. The subtypes of lymphoma include:

    • Nodular sclerosis – more common in young adults than in other age groups
    • Lymphocyte-rich – more common in men
    • Lymphocyte-depleted – more rare and aggressive
    • Mixed cellularity – more prevalent in adult men

    In developing a treatment plan, accurate diagnosis and staging is important in shaping a treatment plan. The general stages of lymphoma are:

    • Stage 1 – Lymphoma occurs in 1 lymph node, a group of lymph nodes, or 1 organ
    • Stage 2 – Lymphoma occurs in 2 or more lymph node regions, or when it has invaded an organ and the nearby lymph nodes. The cancer sites are still limited to the same side of the diaphragm.
    • Stage 3 – The cancer occurs on both sides of the diaphragm
    • Stage 4 – The cancer occurs in several sites in 1 or more organs and tissues. This is the most advanced stage of Hodgkin's lymphoma, and affects not only the lymph nodes but also other parts of the body, such as the liver, lungs or bones.

    Non-Hodgkin's lymphoma:

    This is a heterogeneous group of malignancies of the lymphoid system. The most common non-Hodgkin's lymphoma is the diffuse large B-cell lymphoma.

    The staging of the non-Hodgkin's lymphoma is similar to Hodgkin's lymphoma.

  • While the exact cause of lymphoma is unknown, some risk factors may include:

    • Age – some types of lymphoma are more common in young adults, while others are most often diagnosed in people aged 5 and above
    • Being male
    • Having an impaired immune system
    • Infections (eg. Epstein-Barr virus and Helicobacter pylori infection)
    • Genetic disorders (eg. Wiskott-Aldrich syndrome)

    Lymphoma occurs when a lymphocyte undergoes mutation and causes the lymphoid cells to behave abnormally and to multiply and expand uncontrollably.

    Lymphoid cells are autonomously proliferating cells, and have longer life spans as compared to normal cells. They have also the tendencies to invade into the surrounding normal tissue and are capable of metastasizing to other parts of the body.

  • While the signs and symptoms of lymphoma may not be easily noticeable, some common symptoms include:

    • Enlarged (swollen) lymph glands
    • Chronic tiredness
    • Fever
    • Night sweats
    • Shortness of breath
    • Unexplained weight loss
    • Skin irritation or itchiness
  • Your doctor may recommend the following tests and procedures to diagnose Hodgkin lymphoma:

    • Physical examination – to check for swollen lymph nodes
    • Blood tests – to look for irregularities in your blood that suggest the possibility of cancer
    • Imaging tests – which may include x-rays and CT scans
    • Lymph node biopsy – to remove a lymph node to see if abnormal cells (Reed-Sternberg cells) are found in the lymph node
    • Bone marrow biopsy – to remove a sample of bone marrow to search for Hodgkin lymphoma cells
  • Lymphoma treatment is dependent on the type of lymphoma diagnosed and its severity.

    Treatment options include:

    Treatment at Mount Elizabeth Hospitals

    Mount Elizabeth Hospitals’ specialists provide personalised care to patients diagnosed with lymphoma, including very rare types of the disease.

    Your care team may include:

    • Haematologists
    • Pathologists
    • Radiation oncologists
    • Radiologists
    • Bone marrow transplant specialists
    • Surgeons
    • Dermatologists

    Our pathologists are specialised in diseases of the blood (hematopathologists), and work closely with the Parkway Cancer Centre care team to ensure a proper diagnosis of this complex disease, which has many variations and rare forms.

    At Mount Elizabeth Hospitals, we provide established treatments for lymphoma and are experienced in managing blood cancer patients. Our multidisciplinary team have access to specialist centres overseas, and are kept abreast with research and developments in the treatment of blood cancers.

    Haematology and Stem Cell Transplant Centre, located at Mount Elizabeth Orchard Hospital, is headed by Dr Patrick Tan, a haematologist with more than 30 years of experience in the treatment of blood disorders including leukemia, and in performing bone marrow transplants.

    Parkway Cancer Centre, which also runs the Children’s Haematology & Cancer Centre, provides specialised clinical care, including diagnostic evaluation and chemotherapy, for children and adults with blood diseases.


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