Every 40 minutes someone in the UK is diagnosed with lymphoma, it’s the UK’s 5th most common cancer.
The problem is recognising the symptoms. Lumps, night sweats and itching are all symptoms but all one can generally do at this early point is seek advice from their GP and there’s the problem, many people wouldn’t go the see a doctor to complain of itching or even night sweats.
Only 8% of patients displaying initial symptoms are referred by their GP for lymphoma. It’s understandable that if all patients displaying similar symptoms were referred, haematology departments would be a bit overwhelmed. Most people visiting their GP with similar symptoms will not have the disease but more than a quarter of those that do will be misdiagnosed.
The disease presents simiiar to many other conditions so a GP will often be late on the true diagnosis unless concerned enough to make an urgent referral to a hospital because he/she is overly concerned.
Therefore many patients are diagnosed at the final stages of the disease cycle, that’s 4b for Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. This can not only decrease chances of survival but also irreversibly affect fertility.
The Lymphoma Association recognises that the way forward is to provide information to GPs about lymphoma detection. They work with the Royal College of General Practitioners to deliver a training program for GPs that can help change things, by delivering an online training program known as the e-learning package.
A young 22 year old cancer biologist from Chesham, Rachel Sacks, was herself diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma and after chemotherapy was in remission in October 2013. She said that having some sort of understanding of the disease made it a bit easier for her. As a way of coping she documented her experiences in a blog which she named The Irony of Cancer. There are some lovely photos on that blog. Miss Sachs started her new career 2014 in Cancer Therapeutics at the Barts Cancer Institute in East London.
If you are affected by lymphatic cancer you will find supporting information at the Lymphoma Association.
An overview of Hodgkin’s Lymphoma
Thomas Hodgkin (August 17, 1798 – April 5, 1866) was a British physician and considered one of the most prominent pathologists of his time and a pioneer in preventive medicine. He is now best known for the first account of Hodgkin’s Disease, a form of cancer of the lymphatic system (lymphoma), in 1832. His work marked the beginning of times when a pathologist was actively involved in the clinical process.
Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, as it was renamed, is a type of cancers of the lymphatic system — the body’s blood-filtering tissues that help to fight infection and disease. Like other cancers, lymphomas occur when cells divide too often and too quickly. When this occurs, the cancer cells may overcrowd, invade, and destroy lymphoid tissues and metastasise (spread) to other organs.
In the first instance, when confronted with a diagnosis of Lymphoma the natural response is to do some research and the best information is available from the internet. The following are snippets from an article in the Lymphoma Matters magazine, Issue 101 Spring 2015, which I think are a good introduction.
Oxford Cancer & Haematology Centre
Is the number of people being diagnosed with lymphoma increasing? If so, why?
Around 15 out of every 1000,000 people are diagnosed with lymphoma each year in the UK. This is called the ‘incidence’ of lymphoma and it is increasing year on year. We don’t know why this is, but we do know that it isn’t just because we are better at diagnosing lymphoma.
Two other cancers have an incidence that is increasing faster than that of lymphoma, lung cancer in women and malignant melanoma. But we have little idea why the number of cases of lymphoma is increasing.
Are some lymphomas more common in certain groups of people
Some types of lymphoma are more common in different sexes or geographical areas and in people whose tests show that they had certain viral infections.
Some lymphomas are much more common in men such as mantle cell lymphoma.B-cell lymphomas are more common than T-cell lymphomas in the Western world.
Why are lymphomas called ‘blood’ or ‘haematological’ cancers?
Lymphomas form from lymphocytes. Lymphocytes are a type of white blood cell. They are called ‘blood cells’ because they are found in the bloodstream, but in fact lymphocytes are spend most of their time outside the blood, for example in lymphnodes (glands).
So lymphomas usually develop as lumps, in lymph nodes and in other tissues where lymphocytes are normally found.
Why do some lymphoma have ‘leukaemia’ in their name?
In general, lymphomas are lumpy – cancerous lymphocytes that make up the lymphoma are found collected together in lumps. If lymphoma cells are found in the blood, the lymphoma might have ‘leukaemia’ in its name.
For example, the cancerous lymphocytes in chronic lymphocytic leukaemia (CLL) are found in the blood and in the bone marow, which is why it is called a ‘leukaemia’. However, the way CLL behaves is more like a low-grade non-Hodgkins lymphoma – it typically effects older people, and is treated in a similar way to some other low-grade lymphomas, with watch and wait being the most appropriate course of action in some people.
If the cancerous lymphocytes aren’t found in the blood or bone marrow, butr cause enlarged lymph nodes, CLL is called ‘small lymphocytic lymphoma’ or SLL.
Other examples are lymphoblastic lymphoma, which is similar to a childhood leukaemia called ‘acute lymphoblastic leukaemia’ but with lumps of lymphoma cells rather than involvement of the blood and bone marrow; and adult T-cell leukaemia/lymphoma (where people with the leukaemia form have lymphoma calls in the blood).