The lymph node is a small, bean shaped organ that stores and produces blood cells that help to fight infection and disease. The lymph node removes fluids and waste from the body and stores white blood cells. Located throughout the body, lymph nodes are part of the lymphatic system. Cancer in lymph nodes can develop in a couple of different ways, so you should be aware of the first signs of cancer.
Lymphoma can begin as the primary cancer in the body or a person can experience in lymph nodes from a different source in the body, which has spread. If a person is diagnosed with it, and it has come from a different area of the body, it is then referred to as secondary or metastatic cancer. Lymph node cancer that begins as the primary cancer is called lymphoma.
Without immediate treatment, this type of disease can be very painful and debilitating. It also has a reputation for metastasizing fairly quickly, which can make it more difficult, if not impossible to effectively treat. Many patients diagnosed with this condition have admitted later on that they put off a doctor’s visit after they noticed symptoms, in fear of a diagnosis. But without early intervention and treatment, the survival rate of this type of cancer is dangerously low.
The Nature of Lymphoma
If a person suspects they have it, due to swelling of the lymph nodes and a major change in their energy level, appetite or general feeling of well-being, they must meet with their primary physician for an exam and possible testing. Usually, after an exam, if the physician suspects that the patient may have lymphoma, they will order a series of tests that are designed to diagnose the cancer with accuracy. During these routine tests, the physician will also refer the patient to a specialist in cancer and blood diseases.
It is able to spread throughout the body due to the millions of cancerous cells. When some of these cells travel to the bloodstream they can become dormant in the body for several years, or they can grow, forming tumors. The cells in secondary cancer of the lymph nodes, when removed, will appear identical to the cancerous cells taken from the primary area of the body.
When a physician locates a tumor in the body they will remove it, in addition to any lymph nodes in that area. They will study the removed lymph nodes to determine if the cancer has spread. This will help a physician to determine the risk of the cancer returning.
Commonly experienced symptoms that are associated with this type of cancer include the enlargement or hardness of the lymph nodes. It’s also important to mention that if there are only a small amount of cancerous cells in the lymph nodes, there may be no hardness or swelling present. This is why it’s important that part of the lymph nodes be removed and studied. A lymph node can swell for several reasons and it may not necessarily mean that a person has the disease. Other symptoms include temperature swings and chills, excessive night sweats, recurrent fevers, loss of appetite, lack of energy, persistent tiredness, headaches, enlarged tonsils, coughing, breathlessness and persistent itch all over the body with no rash present.
Some of these symptoms are commonly seen in less serious illnesses such as viral infections or the flu, which is why these symptoms are usually overlooked. However, in cases of less serious illness, these types of symptoms would resolve in a matter of days, whereas people with an undiagnosed case of disease will notice these symptoms lingering and worsening.
By far, researchers have reported that the most common symptom is swollen lymph nodes with no pain present. The armpits and neck are the common places first noticed, however, this type of swelling can occur in other parts of the body as well, such as the groin or abdomen. Some people with lymphoma do not notice any swelling, while others will complain of chills, sweats, itching, and lack of energy or weight loss. Typically, there is no pain involved, especially during the early stage.
Most people who have nonspecific complaints will not have lymphoma, however, people who experience these types of persistent symptoms must be checked out by their physician in order to rule out serious conditions. More commonly, a lymph node will become enlarged due to an infection, such as a respiratory or viral infection. At times, the swelling can be caused by an underlying medical condition. When enlargement of the lymph nodes persists and other symptoms such as night sweats, fever, or weight loss accompany the swelling, it may be time to seek medical attention.
With advanced cases of lymphoma, patients may experience pain in the lymph nodes after consuming alcohol. If the disease involves lymphatic tissue within the stomach, bowel or abdomen, fluid can build up and cause severe swelling near the intestines, which can lead to diarrhea, abdominal pressure, indigestion or abdominal pain.
Some people will also experience unexplained back pain. It’s believed that the back pain is caused by the swollen lymph nodes pressing on nerves.
As this disease progresses, the lymphocytes will spread beyond the lymphatic system, affecting the body’s ability to fight off infection.
Coping with a Cancer Diagnosis
The treatment will depend on the individual. There are specific aspects that will be taken into consideration, such as if the cancer in the lymph nodes is secondary or primary, in addition to the patient’s overall health. Treatment can include hormonal therapy, chemotherapy or radiotherapy, or a combination of treatments and therapies. Combined treatments can greatly reduce the risk of the it returning.
A diagnosis of the lymph nodes disease can be shocking. You may experience several emotions, such as rage, guilt, denial and anger. Emotions running high at this time are completely normal as the mind tries to adjust to the idea of it. It’s essential that you find a way to deal with these emotions. Having someone you can discuss your health and feelings with can help you to face the disease and better deal with the situation. Resources and support groups are available to help a patient to work through this process and can also be utilized as a resource for treatment information and success stories.
The Importance of Preventative Care in Treating Lymphoma
Preventative care is the best method for fighting lymphoma, which can commonly be diagnosed during a routine checkup, blood test, or x-ray. Regular checkups will help to increase a person’s chances for successful treatment and survival.
If you have the signs of cancer, treatment options for lymphoma will include chemotherapy, targeted therapy, radiation therapy, and biological therapy. While some cases will only require a single type of treatment, others will need a combination. Commonly, steroid treatment will be used in conjunction with chemotherapy. Before treatment begins most physicians will recommend that the patient receive vaccinations for both pneumonia and the flu. These vaccinations will help to protect the patient from these infections, as their immunity will be significantly lowered during treatment.