Examination of the lymph nodes
Actress Jane Fonda has revealed that she has non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma (NHL) and has started chemotherapy. Although Fonda hasn’t shared the details of her diagnosis, the news made people wonder: What exactly is NHL?
According to the Lymphoma Research Foundation, lymphoma is a cancer of the lymphocytes, which are white blood cells that travel through the blood and lymph system to defend the body against bacteria and viruses. There are three main categories of lymphoma. NHL is the most common, with more than 81,000 people diagnosed with NHL each year in the United States.
It is a leukemia, but it affects the lymph nodes. It is one of the cancers that can metastasize to a lot of body systems and can progress rapidly if not detected in time,” says Deborah Oellow, advanced practice nurse for hematology and oncology at OSF.
As of 2016, the World Health Organization has classified at least 86 different types of NHL. Since lymph nodes are located all over the body—in the neck, armpits, groin, behind the ears, and back of the head, to name a few—lymphomas can eventually start anywhere. Swelling of these lymph nodes can occur for a variety of reasons, however, it may not necessarily indicate cancer.
“There is a difference between having a cold and having a lymphadenitis, and having a lymph node that is swollen but not painful, but present,” explains Oellow.
You may have experienced swollen lymph nodes in your throat when you were sick. This swelling is associated with the disease and usually disappears once the disease has run its course. However, if you have a swollen lymph node that seems to pop out of the blue, Oellow advises people to note this and make an appointment with a primary care provider if it doesn’t go away.
At first, lymphoma may appear only as a swollen lymph node with no other symptoms. However, symptoms change as the disease progresses.
“Because it affects the lymph nodes – this is our immune system – we start to see fevers, chills, unexplained rashes and weight loss for no reason. These are later signs that start with a lymph node that grows and comes back, swells and goes down on its own. This is something to watch out for in time. former,” advises Oyelowo.
As with many types of cancer, family history, age, gender, and ethnicity are taken into account when determining a person’s risk of developing NHL. Risk factors such as a weak immune system and a history of autoimmune diseases tend to be more strongly associated with NHL.
According to the American Cancer Society (ACS), people with autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, Sjogren’s disease, celiac disease, and others have an increased risk of NHL. When someone is diagnosed with an autoimmune disease, it means that their immune system attacks healthy cells in their body in the same way it fights germs and infections – essentially increasing their immune system. The ACS says this may cause the lymphocytes to grow and divide more than usual, increasing the risk of them turning into lymphoma cells.
“The presenting symptoms will be much different than someone who does not have autoimmune problems. If we have this type of patient, the visible signs and symptoms will be more aggressive. If we have a patient who has no pre-existing medical problems, but has a hormonal imbalance or swelling in the lymph nodes, we’d take a different approach,” explains Oellow.
If you have a family history of lymphoma or have been diagnosed with an autoimmune disease, Oellow recommends that any swollen lymph nodes be evaluated by your health care provider.
Most importantly, Oyelowo advises individuals to listen to their bodies and make an appointment with their primary care provider if they are concerned about any abnormal lymph nodes or other symptoms that don’t go away on their own. There are successful treatment options available for NHL and other lymphomas, but early detection is key.
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