Lymphoma affects the lymphatic system, which exists throughout the body and plays a major role in immune function. It comprises a network of fluid, lymphocytes, lymphatic vessels, lymph nodes and lymphatic organs, such as the spleen, thymus, tonsils, and bone marrow, as well as in the stomach, intestines, and skin. There are several types and subtypes of lymphoma cancer, and most can be classified as either Hodgkin lymphoma (which account for ten to 15% of cases) or non-Hodgkin lymphoma.
Ordinarily, tenderness accompanies inflamed lymph nodes, especially those caused by an infection. However, people with early-stage lymphoma do not usually experience pain. The swelling may develop in the neck, armpits, or groin, locations with a high concentration of lymph nodes. This symptom alone is not always enough to prompt an individual to seek medical attention.
Some people with lymphoma experience localized pain in one or multiple parts of the body, depending on which organs the disease has affected. For instance, lymphoma of the brain can cause severe and unrelenting headaches. Lymphoma of the stomach may cause painful cramps. Similarly, other body parts may become prone to inexplicable, severe pains that occur at random. In rare cases of Hodgkin's lymphoma, individuals experience pain after drinking alcohol.
Unexplained fevers that last a few hours or a few days can be an early warning sign of lymphoma, though many conditions can cause this symptom. What differentiates lymphoma-caused fever is the lack of another evident infection. Anyone who experiences a fever higher than 100.3 degrees Fahrenheit should consult a physician.
Rapid and significant weight loss is symptomatic of various types of cancer, including lymphoma. As a general rule, physicians consider unexplained weight loss a possible warning sign of malignancy. People with cancer often observe about a ten percent loss of original body weight in a matter of six months. This occurs as multiplying abnormal cells place an increased nutritional demand on the body. As a result, the body burns through carbohydrates and moves onto fat and eventually muscle. Lack of appetite can also exacerbate weight loss.
Many people with lymphoma complain of excessive sweating or hyperhidrosis. Perspiring heavily during physical activity or humid weather is normal, but night sweats generally have an underlying cause. Experts do not fully understand why lymphoma leads to hyperhidrosis. One theory is that over-activity of the immune system causes excessive perspiration. Malignant lymphoma cells also produce chemicals that may cause excessive sweating and night sweats.
Lymphoma within the tissues of the abdomen, stomach, or bowel often leads to fluid build-up in the affected area due to tissue swelling. While some people experience a feeling of fullness after the smallest meals, others have indigestion, abdominal pain, and diarrhea. Some people also experience severe constipation. In addition, intestinal lymphoma can make it harder for the body to absorb nutrients from food. Though these symptoms can be mistaken for those of other conditions, with lymphoma they occur without other signs of infection, and over-the-counter remedies rarely provide relief.
In rare cases, lymphoma tumors in the chest grow large enough to affect the respiratory system or the blood vessels nearby. As a result, affected individuals tend to have difficulty drawing full breaths and often feel breathless. This problem can become so severe that even sedentary activities leave the person feeling exhausted. Additionally, lymphoma's effects on bone marrow can lead to a shortage of red blood cells or anemia, which makes it harder to get enough oxygen and makes breathing difficult.
As lymphoma cells multiply and become more potent, they secrete chemical by-products called cytokines that irritate the nerves in the skin. This leads people with the condition to feel itchy in localized areas or all over the body, for no apparent reason. In rare instances, papules, acne-like clusters, develop in the areas most impacted by cancer. Typically, though, there are no visible signs of skin irritation. Topical creams and ointments may provide temporary relief, but there is no long-term respite since the chemicals are released directly into the bloodstream.
Lymphoma, like other cancers, leaves people weak and fatigued as cancer cells continue to place an increased nutritional demand upon the body. This demand quickly depletes the body's energy sources. The immune system also consumes a lot of energy as it constantly fights cancerous invaders.
As cancer progresses and the abnormal cells spread beyond the lymphatic system, the body becomes further ill-equipped to fight off infection. As a consequence, people with lymphoma are prone to acquiring infections that produce a wide range of symptoms. Excessive and prolonged sickness, often from bugs a healthy body could easily fend off, typically occurs in advanced stages or when a patient has refused or been unable to receive treatment.
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