Lymphoma is a type of cancer, that arises from white blood cells called lymphocytes.
Lymphocytes are made in the bone marrow. Most of them mature in the bone marrow and are then released into the bloodstream, where they circulate or migrate to other tissues to do their jobs. A portion of lymphocytes (T cells) leave the marrow while still immature and migrate to an organ called the thymus, where they finish maturing. Normal lymphocytes are an important part of our immune system, including fighting viral infections.
There are over 40 different types of lymphoma. Lymphomas are often referred to as Hodgkin’s (one type) vs non-Hodgkins (everything else). Another way of grouping them is indolent vs aggressive.
Indolent lymphomas tend to grow slowly and may not cause any symptoms/problems. They often don’t need treatment unless they’re causing a problem. Aggressive lymphomas tend to grow quickly and make people sick, and are treated straight away.
Treatments for lymphoma include a group of medications called immunotherapy, chemotherapy and radiation. Surgery is not a treatment in most cases (except to get a biopsy/diagnosis).
Some people may have multiple investigations and biopsies before they are diagnosed with lymphoma. This is because the symptoms lymphoma causes, and what it looks like under the microscope, can be very similar to infections, other cancers and inflammatory and autoimmune conditions. Lymphoma cannot be diagnosed based on a scan alone.
In Australia, lymphoma is treated by haematologists (that’s what I am). Treatment is most definitely a team effort with patients, their families, nurses, pharmacy, pathologists, radiologists and allied health all integral members.