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Tuesday, 9 February, 1999, 18:52 GMT
Lymphoma: The facts
The former King Hussein of Jordan had lymphoma
Lymphoma is one of the most complicated forms of cancer and is growing fast. It has the third fastest growing cancer of the last 20 years. Some 71,200 Americans are estimated to suffer from the disease. But although cases are rising, the numbers of people dying from the disease is not increasing at the same rate due to more effective treatments. Survival rates vary according to the type of cancer and how early the disease is detected.

What is lymphoma?

Lymphoma is a cancer of the lymphatic system which embraces the bone marrow, spleen, thymus gland, lymph nodes and tonsils.

Lymph is a colourless, watery fluid which contains white blood cells which are important for fighting disease.

It is carried in the lymph glands and vessels and the infection-fighting cells are stored in the lymph nodes in the neck, under the arms, in the groin area and the abdomen.

When cancers spread they are carried in the lymphatic system. Lymphoma occurs when tumours build up in tissues found in areas such as the bone marrow or lymph glands.

There are many different types of lymphoma, but the main groups are Hodgkin's disease (HD) and Non Hodgkin's Lymphoma (NHL).

Some are fast spreading and others are less aggressive. Some can be cured while others are only treatable and some have no cure.

The two forms have similar symptoms, but contain different cell types.

NHL is the most common form of the disease and has 15 types. It usually affects people aged between 30 and 70 years old.

Around 53,000 Americans have NHL.

HD normally affects people aged 15 to 40 and is more likely to be curable than NHL.

According to US cancer figures for the 1986 to 1992 period, there is an 82% chance of survival from HD after five years among white people and a 72% survival rate among African Americans.

For NHL, the figures are 52% for whites and 44% for blacks.

The racial difference is due to a variety of factors, including income.

What are the symptoms?

One of the main symptoms is enlargement of the lymph nodes. This can lead to large painless lumps in places such as the neck, under the arm and in the groin area.

Other symptoms can include night sweats, bone pains, fever, fatigue and weight loss.

How is it treated?

The main forms of treatment are radiation, chemotherapy and monitoring.

HD is more likely to be treated with radiotherapy and chemotherapy, while NHL will be treated with chemotherapy and monitoring.

Doctors watch to see when the cancer cells start to cluster in vital organs and target chemotherapy accordingly.

Where these forms of treatment have not worked, doctors may resort to a bone marrow transplant.

No-one knows what causes lymphoma, but pesticides, bacteria and viruses are believed to play a part.

People with damaged immune systems are thought to be at greater risk of developing the disease.

Around 30% of AIDS patients are said to have the disease. Sixty per cent of children with cancer have lymphoma or leukaemia, a related cancer.

See also:

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