Lymphoma is a cancer that affects the immune system. Dr Lim Soon Thye, Deputy Medical Director (Clinical) and Senior Consultant at National Cancer Centre Singapore (NCCS), explains types of the condition.
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Dr Lim Soon Thye, Deputy Medical Director (Clinical) and Senior Consultant of the
Division of Medical Oncology at
National Cancer Centre Singapore (NCCS), a member of the
SingHealth group, shares on the types and diagnosis of Hodgkin's lymphoma.
Hodgkin’s lymphoma vs non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma
Lymphoma cancer can be broadly divided into two categories:
Hodgkin’s lymphoma (also called Hodgkin’s disease) and
Patients diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma often have large abnormal cells called Reed-Sternberg cells in their lymph nodes. This disease is highly curable and accounts for about 10 per cent of all lymphoma cases.
Although lymphoma cancer can occur at any age, Hodgkin’s disease is most prevalent in two particular age groups:
- People between 15 and 40 years of age.
- People aged 55 years and above.
Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma is more common. There are mainly two types of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma:
Aggressive (high grade): Tends to grow and spread quickly and cause severe symptoms. If left untreated, it can be fatal within a few months or sooner
Slow-growing (low-grade): Tends to grow and spread slowly and cause few symptoms. It is harder to treat and carries a higher risk of relapse
The risk of developing non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma increases with age, with most patients being diagnosed in their 60s.
Diagnosis of lymphoma
A common symptom of lymphoma cancer is the painless swelling of the lymph nodes in the neck, underarm or groin. When this is accompanied by a persistent fever, drenching sweats or unexplained weight loss, it is best to consult a doctor immediately.
“Lymphoma is diagnosed with a biopsy. Once the lymphoma is confirmed, additional scans, a bone marrow biopsy and blood tests may be needed to see how widespread the cancer is. Heart function tests may also be required to see if a patient is fit for lymphoma treatment,” says Dr Lim.
Here’s a closer look at some of the tests and procedures used to diagnose lymphoma cancer:
Physical exam: Your doctor will check for swollen lymph nodes as well as an enlarged spleen or liver
Blood tests: Used to test blood cell, kidney and liver performance. They can also detect lactase dehydrogenase (LDH), a chemical associated with the aggressive form of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma
Bone marrow biopsy: Bone marrow samples are usually taken from the hip and examined for abnormal B or T cells
If the lymphoma is confirmed, it is then classified according to its stage, Stage 1 being the earliest phase while Stage IV is the disease at its most widespread.
Read on to learn about the treatment options available for lymphoma.
See the previous page to find out what are the common symptoms of lymphoma.