Patients recently diagnosed with cancer of the lymph nodes often wonder, “Is cancer of the lymph nodes terminal?” While a cancer diagnosis causes many people to consider their own mortality, it’s not an automatic death sentence as it once was.
Cancers That Originate in the Lymphatic System
Lymphoma is a general term for cancers that originate in the lymphatic system, which includes a person’s white blood cells, bone marrow, lymph nodes, spleen, and thymus. The lymphatic system is an essential part of the immune system, helping the body eliminate harmful microorganisms, toxins, and waste.
Lymphomas start out in a lymphocyte, one of two types of white blood cells, either a B cell or a T cell. DNA damage causes changes in these cells, driving them to grow larger and divide rapidly — and even form tumors. As the cancer cells grow, they overcome healthy immune system tissues, making the patient’s body more vulnerable to infection.
Lymphomas come in two overall types — non-Hodgkin’s and Hodgkin’s (named after the doctor who discovered the disease) — as well as more than 70 subtypes. Some lymphomas grow rapidly, while others show a relatively slow growth pattern.
Hodgkin’s lymphomas usually begin in a patient’s chest, neck, or underarms. Then, they travel from that group of lymph nodes to adjacent ones. Since its progress is usually predictable, Hodgkin’s lymphomas are usually easy to detect and treat in their earliest stages.
Doctors categorize lymphomas as either Hodgkin’s or non-Hodgkin’s by removing a tissue sample from a lymph node in a biopsy and examining the cells under a microscope. If the biopsy detects the presence of Reed-Sternberg cells, which are large, abnormally shaped lymphocytes that often have multiple nuclei, the cancer is Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
If no Reed-Sternberg cells appear in the biopsy tissue sample, the doctor will classify it as non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. These lymphomas don’t only develop in the chest, head, and underarms. They are often hidden in less easily accessible locations, such as the groin or abdominal cavity.
Non-Hodgkin’s lymphomas follow an unpredictable path as they progress, so they are often missed until they are in the advanced stages of the disease. However, it’s the most common form of the disease, so it pays to be vigilant about any possible symptoms.
Symptoms of Lymphomas
Lymphomas cause several symptoms that merit a visit to a doctor. They include:
- Swollen lymph nodes that don’t go away after recovery from an infectious disease, usually in the armpits, chest, groin, or neck
- Extreme fatigue, both physical and mental
- Weight loss that occurs quickly while not on a weight-loss program
- Extreme night sweats
- Itchiness without a rash
Possible Causes of Lymphomas
Studies have shown some possible causes of the disease, although much research must still take place to pin down the exact factors that cause lymphomas. Possible causes include:
- Inherited abnormalities
- Retroviruses such as HTLV-1
- Exposure to high levels of radiation or herbicides
- A diagnosis of HIV-AIDS
After diagnosing a patient with a specific type and stage of lymphoma, these specialists work together to design a comprehensive and individualized treatment plan. In a single location, patients at Brio-Medical have access to the latest breakthroughs in lymphoma treatment, including new therapies available exclusively through Brio-Medical’s robust clinical trials program.
Usually, most lymphomas are treatable, especially those found in the early stages. Several factors impact the severity of the disease. They include:
- The type of cancer cells present in the lymphoma
- How early in the lymphoma’s development the diagnosis occurred
- The patient’s age and health, as well as how well they can perform regular daily activities
- What treatments the doctor and patient choose
- Whether the lymphoma has spread to other parts of the body
- The level of lactate dehydrogenase (LDH), an indicator of tissue breakdown, in the patient’s blood
Cancers That Spread to the Lymph Nodes from Other Locations
Cancer also spreads to the lymph nodes from other locations in the body through a patient’s lymphatic ducts. If the cancer has only spread to the lymph nodes and not to other parts of the body, according to the University of Nebraska Medical Center’s Juan Santamaria, MD, they’re “still treatable and even curable” since they’re usually only at stage two or three of their development.
People who have had cancer in the past or are currently going through treatment need to be on the alert for swollen, hard, and tender lymph nodes. If they notice any changes in their lymph nodes, it’s essential to see their doctor for a CT scan, an MRI, or an ultrasound examination to detect any other enlarged lymph nodes in hidden areas of the body. If the doctor finds anything that looks like it could be cancer, they will usually perform a biopsy to check the cells for malignancy.
A new study has shown that cancer that spreads into the lymph nodes from other organs “enlist” normal immune cells to help it spread into other parts of the body. Two proteins, PD-L1 and MHC-I, the study found, send signals to immune cells, “telling” them not to attack the cancer cells.
Since the metastasis process hijacks the immune system to spread cancer to other parts of the body, it’s critical for past and current cancer patients to be alert to any changes in their lymph nodes. As with lymphomas, early detection of cancer that has spread into the lymphatic system is critical for successful treatment.
Treating Cancer of the Lymph Nodes
Some slow-growing lymphomas require only active surveillance, deferring treatment until symptoms are noticeable and affect the patient’s daily life. For faster-growing cancers, surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, antibodies, small molecule drug inhibitors, CAR T-cell treatments, and bone marrow transplants, as well as alternative and integrative cancer therapies, number among possible treatments for cancer of the lymph nodes. Some doctors combine natural treatment options with traditional therapies to fight the disease on several fronts.
For those with cancer of the lymph nodes, there’s hope at the Brio-Medical Cancer Clinic. Schedule a free consultation today.