Everyone knows about swollen and painful lymph nodes in the stages of the disease. However, if the lymph nodes swell painlessly, this may be an indication of lymph node cancer. A malignant disease that causes non-specific symptoms.
The lymphatic system is part of the body’s defense system and is responsible for fighting infections. It is made up of a series of lymph nodes and vessels that carry lymphatic fluid, which contains infection-fighting white blood cells, throughout the body. Foreign bodies and other harmful substances are filtered and destroyed by the lymphatic system. Lymph node cancer is an umbrella term for cancer of the lymphatic system. FITBOOK knows the symptoms of lymph node cancer.
What are the symptoms of lymph node cancer?
In the early stages, lymph node cancer causes almost no symptoms. Only enlarged lymph nodes can be an indication of a disease. They can appear in lymph nodes in the neck, armpit, abdomen, groin, upper chest, and even behind the breastbone. Also, the signs of early lymphoma are very nonspecific:1
- tiredness and exhaustion
- strong feeling of cold
- shortness of breath
- loss of appetite
- stomach ache
- painless and persistent swelling of the lymph nodes
So-called B symptoms can also occur:
- night sweats
- weight loss
In the later, advanced course, in which the bone marrow is also affected, other symptoms may also appear, such as anemia, tendency to infections and bleeding. Depending on the organ and tissue infestation, symptoms such as cough, difficulty breathing, abdominal, bone and joint pain, and digestive problems may also occur.
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Types of cancer of the lymphatic gland
There are several types of lymphoma, which differ in the types of cells affected and the course of the disease. There are two main types Hodgkin’s lymphoma (Hodgkin’s disease, Hodgkin’s disease) and that Non-Hodghin lymphoma (NHL).
Hodgkin’s lymphoma (Hodgkin’s disease)
Hodgkin’s lymphoma is a malignant (malignant) lymphoma that originates from degenerated lymph cells, specifically from B lymphocytes. B lymphocytes belong to white blood cells and, together with T lymphocytes, are an important part of the human immune system. Defense cells produce antibodies against pathogens, bacteria and viruses. The difference between Hodgkin’s lymphoma and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma can only be seen under a microscope. In the first, so-called “Reed-Sternberg cells”, multinucleated giant tumor cells that do not occur in non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, can be detected.
If “Reed-Sternberg cells” are not found, a large number of different types of malignant tumor diseases of the lymphatic system are summarized under “Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma” (NHL). Again, lymphomas are caused by degenerated B lymphocytes and, to a lesser extent, by T lymphocytes, which are responsible for fighting the virus. Non-Hodgkin’s lymphomas are divided into low-grade and high-grade NHL, i.e. high-grade NHL. In the latter, rapidly growing degenerate cells spread from their point of origin – often one of the lymph nodes – throughout the body and infect other organs and tissues.2,3,4
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What are the causes of the disease?
Cancer develops when lymph cells, for example in the spleen or stem cells in the bone marrow, grow uncontrollably. However, the exact trigger is not yet known. Science has only been able to identify a combination of factors that can increase the risk of developing lymph node cancer. In Hodgkin’s lymphoma these are:
In the case of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, these risk factors can also be the cause:
- some autoimmune diseases, such as B. Rheumatism
- a hepatitis B and C infection
- the “stomach germ” Helicobacter pylori
- chemicals, such as some pesticides
- radioactive radiation
- old age
- severe overweight
How to diagnose?
If a doctor detects abnormal swelling or another symptom, they will order a biopsy of the suspected lymphoma if they suspect lymph node cancer. The cells are removed from the enlarged lymph nodes and sent to a specialist called a hematopathologist, who examines the cells, that is, determines whether it is a lymphoma and, if so, what type of cell it is.
In the event that it is indeed lymphoma cells, further tests must be done to find out how far the tumor has progressed, i.e. at what stage it is. This is done through X-rays, white and red blood cell counts through blood tests, cell and tissue examination of the lymph nodes, bone marrow, and ultrasound scans.5,6,7
The stages of lymph gland cancer disease have been divided into four stages:
- Stage 1: Involvement of a single lymph node region or a localized area outside the lymphatic system
- Stage 2: Involvement of two or more lymph node regions on the same side of the diaphragm
- Stage 3: Involvement of two or more lymph node regions on either side of the diaphragm or of organs outside the lymphatic system
- 4th stage: non-localized involvement of one or more non-lymphatic organs, such as lungs, liver or bone marrow, with or without involvement of the lymph nodes
Doctors also classify NHL cancers based on how fast they grow. Low-grade lymphomas are slow-growing and less malignant. Highly malignant lymphomas are malignant, aggressive and grow very rapidly.8
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What treatment options are there?
When treating lymph node cancer, several specialists are usually consulted for treatment or treated in a hematology-oncology department in a university clinic. Depending on the type and progress of the lymphoma, an individual treatment plan is drawn up, which also takes into account age and general health.
Therapeutic approaches are varied and in many cases promising. Treatments that can be used for Hodgkin’s lymphoma and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma include:
- Radiotherapy, to shrink and kill cancer cells
- antibody therapy
- in some cases, a stem cell transplant
Often one therapeutic approach is or must be combined with another for a treatment to take effect. A stem cell transplant can only work with chemotherapy.
Frequency and prognosis of the disease
Cancer is relatively rare in Germany. Hodgkin’s lymphoma accounts for only around 0.5% of all new cancer cases in Germany in men and women. Men fell ill at around age 46 on average and women at age 43. Non-Hodgkin’s lymphomas are also relatively rare. In 2018, 8,280 women and 10,190 men in Germany developed lymph node cancer. By comparison, about 70,000 women developed breast cancer and about 34,000 men developed colorectal cancer in the same year.9.10
The extent to which lymphatic gland cancer can be cured basically depends on the type and stage of the disease. A patient’s age and health status also play a role in treatment. Many people with Hodgkin’s lymphoma can be treated. The five-year survival rate is around 91% for women and 81% for men. Unfortunately, the chances of recovery from non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma are somewhat worse because some types of NHL are very aggressive and grow rapidly. About 71% of women and 70% of men survive in the five years following diagnosis.11,12,13,14
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Can lymphoma be prevented?
Since it is not entirely clear what exactly causes lymph node cancer, it is not possible to say for sure how best to minimize the risk of developing the disease. In principle, you should take advantage of any form of preventive medical supervision and consult a doctor if there are any abnormalities in the lymph nodes and symptoms that could indicate cancer of the lymph nodes. Additionally, one should lead a generally healthy lifestyle to minimize any form of disease risk. This means maintaining a healthy diet, drinking little or no alcohol, getting enough exercise, and not smoking.