Lymphoma is the most commonly occurring blood cancer and the third most common childhood cancer. One million people around the world are living with lymphoma today, yet many people are still unaware of lymphoma and that it is a life-threatening form of cancer.
Lymphoma is cancer of the lymphocytes, which are the white blood cells that help to fight infection. Lymphocytes are found in a liquid called lymph, which travels throughout our body in the lymphatic system.
The lymphatic system is a series of tubes, nodes and organs such as the spleen and thymus that are part of our immune system. Lymphocytes often gather in the lymph nodes -most commonly in the armpit, neck or groin- to fight infection, but can also found in almost any part of the body.
Lymphoma occurs when abnormal lymphocytes grow out of control and collect in the lymph nodes or other parts of the body.
Types of Lymphocytes
There are two main types of lymphocytes that can develop into lymphomas: B lymphocytes (B cells) and T lymphocytes (T cells):
- B cells are responsible for creating antibodies or immunoglobulins which fight infections.
- T cells destroy cancerous cells and other virally or bacterially infected cells by acting on the cells themselves, or by coordinating an immune response.
B-cell lymphomas are much more common than T-cell lymphomas, and account for over 90% of all lymphomas.
Additionally, lymphomas are either:
- Low grade (also referred to as indolent or chronic), because the abnormal cells are slow-growing; or
- High grade (also known as aggressive or acute).
Types of Lymphoma
Lymphomas have been generally categorised either into Hodgkin lymphoma or non-Hodgkin lymphoma. This categorisation is based upon the name of the doctor, Dr Thomas Hodgkin, who first described what was then labelled Hodgkin’s Disease in the early nineteenth century.
Lymphoma Coalition discourages the use of the term ‘non-Hodgkin lymphoma’ as the category does not give the patient any important information about their cancer.
Given the variety and complexity of the different subtypes, it is important for people diagnosed with lymphoma to know and understand their specific subtype, including whether it is low grade or high grade.
Knowing the specific subtype helps people better understand their disease (including its diagnosis, prognosis and treatment plan), and access tailored information and support.
There are over 80 subtypes of lymphomas, with different diagnostic evaluation, different treatment protocols and different outcomes. It is very important to have a lymphoma specialist (hematologist) diagnose the correct subtype of lymphoma. This ensures patients receive the right treatment at the right time for the right subtype.
Signs and Symptoms
There are currently no screening tests for lymphomas. The signs and symptoms of lymphoma can often be mistaken for other less serious illnesses, like the flu. By knowing more about your nodes, the symptoms can be detected early and there is a better chance for quicker diagnosis and appropriate care.
Incidence & Mortality Data
Globally, there were approximately 589,580 new cases of lymphoma in 2018 (excluding CLL). This included:
- 79,990 cases of Hodgkin lymphoma
- 509,590 new cases of other B-cell and T-cell lymphomas (excluding CLL)
It is estimated 274,891 people died worldwide from their lymphoma (not including CLL) in 2018. This included:
- 26,167 deaths from Hodgkin lymphoma
- 248,724 deaths from other B-cell and T-cell lymphomas
CLL has a worldwide incidence projected to be between < 1 and 5.5 per 100 000 people, with higher incidence rates seen in the western world. Reliable incidence data for CLL globally is not available.
Data source: GLOBOCAN 2018
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