Lymphoma is the most common form of blood cancer, affecting specific white blood cells known as lymphocytes. The two main subcategories of lymphoma are Hodgkin’s and Non-Hodgkin’s. Hodgkin’s Lymphoma is the less common category. It is diagnosed when a blood test reveals a specific type abnormal cell, the Reed-Sternberg cell. If that specific abnormal cell type is not present in a lymphoma patient, the lymphoma is classified as Non-Hodgkin’s. Non-Hodgkin’s may affect two different types of lymphocytes. T-cells and B-cells are both lymphocytes, which have the job of fighting infection. T-cells fight the infection, whereas B-cells produce antibodies, which stop the reproduction of an invading virus or bacteria. Either of these types of lymphocytes may succumb to Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
The most common form of Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma is Diffuse Large B-Cell Lymphoma, composing roughly 30% of all Non-Hodgkin’s cases. This is an aggressive form of cancer that may arise in many areas of the body, including the lymph nodes, the gastrointestinal tract, sex organs, thyroid, bones, or even in the brain. Despite its tendency for rapid growth, DLBCL typically responds well to treatment. A rough estimate is that three out of four patients cease to experience symptoms after initial treatment, and many survive the cancer and are considered to be fully cured of it. However, the location of the DLBCL may affect many factors, including prognosis and form of treatment. About one in three cases are diagnosed while the cancer remains localized to one area of the body, which often makes it easier to treat. DLBCL primarily affects adults, with most cases being in individuals over the age of 60, but it has been known to occur in people of all ages.
In many cases, the first sign of DLBCL is rapid swelling in one or more lymph nodes, most noticeably in the neck, armpit, or groin, the lymph nodes that are closest to the skin and easiest to feel. This swelling is most often, but not always, painless. Night sweats, unexplained weight loss, and fever with no additional symptoms of illness are also common. If you experience worrisome swelling in lymph nodes, see a doctor. A number of conditions may lead to lymph node swelling, so it is important to remain calm while waiting to see a doctor. Only your doctor can determine if the swelling may be caused by a lymphoma or by a less nefarious infection.
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