Along the network, small organs called lymph nodes are clustered in the abdomen, chest, groin, and neck. A colorless and watery fluid called lymph circulates through the system carrying infection-fight-ing cells called lymphocyctes. When these cells divide and multiply uncontrollably, malignant tumors can form. Since lymph is carried throughout the body, NHL may form anywhere and can spread easily to other parts of the lymphatic system, including the tonsils, stomach, skin, intestines and bone marrow.
Lymphocytes: The Key to Understanding NHL It is the millions of lymphocytes, or small white blood cells, that are responsible for defending the body against infection. There are two types of these cells, each with its own role within the immune system:
Although both types of cells can develop into NHL, B-cell forms of the disease are more common, comprising 85 percent of all cases.
Causes of NHL The exact cause of NHL remains unknown; however, research has focused on at least four possible factors that may contribute to the development of lymphoma, including genetic factors, autoimmune disorders, viruses such as AIDS, and exposure to carcinogens, such as herbicides or pesticides.
Signs and Symptoms The symptoms of NHL include swollen lymph nodes (in the neck, armpits or groin), coughing, shortness of breath, unexplained weight loss, fever, profuse sweating (particularly at night), and/or severe itchiness. These symptoms may be mistaken as signs of noncancerous problems like infections, making awareness of the signs and symptoms essential. There are no tests for early detection of NHL and an accurate diagnosis of NHL only can be made from a biopsy.
Types of NHL There are more than 30 different sub-types of non-Hodgkin's lymphomas that are categorized by several prognostic factors, including size, rate of growth and areas affected. Current treatments for NHL include "watch and wait," chemotherapy, radiation, bone marrow transplantation and a therapeutic antibody therapy. Exactly which course of therapy a physician recommends depends on one or more of the following critical factors:
1. Stage There are four stages of NHL that characterize where the cancer has spread in the body.