Lymphoma is a type of cancer that occurs in the lymphatic system. The lymphatic system is made to combat disease and infection, so when it has cancer, it can be quite serious. It is made up of lymph nodes, lymphatic vessels, and lymphatic organs. Lymphoma comes in two varieties: Hodgkin Lymphoma and Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma. Hodgkin Lymphoma used to be called Hodgkin's Disease, but medical experts changed the name to be more specific in describing it. There are a number of ways your doctor may arrive at a lymphoma diagnosis.
Your doctor will want to know your medical history so he or she can flag any symptoms of lymphoma, such as weight loss, night sweats or sweating profusely, unexplained fever, and fatigue. Your doctor will want to know if you notice anything unusual happening, such as a cough that won't go away or pain under your jaw, in your armpits, or near your groin.
Your doctor will want to perform a complete medical exam that looks at both your blood work and notice if anything is especially tender or enlarged. For example, in Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma, you may have an enlarged liver or spleen, and you may have enlarged lymph nodes in the groin, abdomen, neck, or armpits.
Your doctor may take a biopsy of an affected lymph node if it is Hodgkin Lymphoma, or an affected lymph node, chest, abdomen, stomach, or intestine. Some of these biopsies are minor, but others require surgery and ultrasound or CT scans to guide the needle for the biopsy. The biopsy is evaluated by a pathologist, who can determine if the cells taken are cancerous or not.
Your doctor may want you to have a computed tomography (CT or CAT) scan. These scans use x-rays and can give a three-dimensional picture of lymph nodes or other areas where there might be tumors or irregularities. It can also give your doctor an idea of how far the lymphoma has spread throughout the body.
Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is imaging technology that uses magnetic fields to construct the image. These scans can give a three-dimensional picture of lymph nodes or other areas where there might be tumors or irregularities. It can also give your doctor an idea of how far the lymphoma has spread throughout the body.
Positron emission tomography (PET) scans are often used in conjunction with CT scans and thus are called PET-CT scans. These scans are used to get accurate pictures of tissues and organs inside your body. They are more accurate than other means to determine the stage of cancer.
Sometimes lymphoma has entered the bone marrow. In this case, your doctor may perform a bone marrow biopsy and aspiration. The biopsy takes a piece of spongy material from the bone, and the aspiration takes some of the fluid from it as well. The biopsy can determine if the lymphoma has spread to the bones.
Once your doctor has all the information necessary, your doctor can determine whether you have Hodgkin or Non-Hodgkin lymphoma. If you have Hodgkin lymphoma, your doctor will need to determine which stage of Hodgkin lymphoma you have. Hodgkin lymphoma has four sub-stages. Stage I is where there only one lymph node or organ infected. Stage VI is the worst with cancer spreading to one or more organs beyond the lymph nodes.
Once your doctor has all the information necessary, your doctor can determine whether you have Hodgkin or Non-Hodgkin lymphoma. If you have Non-Hodgkin lymphoma, your doctor will need to determine which stage of Non-Hodgkin lymphoma you have. Non-Hodgkin lymphoma has four sub-stages. Stage I is where there only one lymph node or organ infected. Stage IV is the worst with cancer spreading to both sides of the diaphragm and one or more organs beyond the lymph nodes.
Between Stage I and Stage IV lymphoma, there are other stages of lymphoma. If you have Hodgkin's lymphoma, the doctor may classify it as Stage II, Stage IIE, Stage II Bulky, or Stage III. Stage II occurs when two lymph nodes are on the same side of the diaphragm. Stage IIE means the lymphoma has involved an organ with its lymph nodes. Stage II Bulky includes either Stage II or Stage IIE and includes a mass in the chest. Stage III means that lymphoma has spread above and below the diaphragm. In Non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, it may be classified as Stage II, Stage IIE, or Stage III. Stage II is defined as lymphoma in two lymph nodes on the same side of the diaphragm. At stage IIE, the lymphoma has involved an organ with its lymph nodes. Stage III means that lymphoma has spread above and below the diaphragm.
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