Symptoms & Treatment For Lymphoma
- .Scott Fryatt, a 24-year-old man from Edinburgh, Scotland, learned his liver was failing and his blood counts after his friend noticed his eyes were jaundiced. It wasn’t until after Fryatt learned he needed a liver transplant that he was diagnosed with lymphoma.
- Lymphoma is a type of blood cancer that is broken up into two separate categories: Hodgkin lymphoma and non-Hodgkin lymphoma. The main difference between the two is that Hodgkin lymphoma has distinctive, giant cells called Reed-Sternberg cells. The presence of these cells, which can be seen under a microscope, will help your doctor determine which of the two lymphoma types you have. So, if these cells are not present then that points to non-Hodgkin Lymphoma.
- Recognizing symptoms of lymphoma can be tricky, which can sometimes lead to late stage diagnoses. However, most common signs to look for include: swollen glands in your neck, armpit, or groin, fever, chills, night sweats, unexplained weight loss, consistent fatigue, or spontaneous swelling in the stomach.
The Edinburgh University graduate eventually learned his liver was failing and his blood counts were off before doctors sent him for more testing. It wasn’t until after Fryatt learned he needed a liver transplant that he was diagnosed with lymphoma.Read More
According to Cleveland Clinic, jaundice, one of the symptoms Fryatt was experiencing, is “a condition in which the skin, whites of the eyes, and mucous membranes turn yellow due to a high level of yellow-orange bile pigment.” And jaundice could be a symptom of lymphoma, as per the American Journal of Gastroenterology.
“They carried out a lot of tests but decided to send me to see a liver specialist at the Royal Infirmary Edinburgh,” Fryatt said. “I spent about four or five weeks there getting further tests done and put on 22kg in water weight which I found out was common when your liver starts to fail.”
Fryatt continued, “I was so ill and getting worse as time went on. After a while, they said I needed a liver transplant and began carrying out scans to make sure I could physically cope. Unfortunately during this process, they also found out that I had lymphoma. They carried out a biopsy to make sure that the procedure would not make the cancer go mad.”
Fryatt was lucky to be cleared and given an urgent transplant within a week, back in June 2022. Then in October, he underwent a full body scan to see if the lymphoma had stayed in one sport or spread.
“I went into the scan thinking that the lymphoma would be localized as doctors believed that was the most likely case. Unfortunately, it showed that it was everywhere and had spread all over my body,” he said.
“It was tough going in and expecting good news and to then walk out with the knowledge that I had incurable lymphoma. The good news was that it can be treated and that it should not impact how long I live for.”
He underwent his first round of chemo in late October and has been battling the cancer ever since. And despite feeling tired amid the treatment, Fryatt is determined to raise money for The Teenage Cancer Trust, an organization helping people like himself. This weekend he will be hosting a gaming live stream to raise money.
What is Lymphoma?
Lymphoma is a type of blood cancer that is broken up into two separate categories: Hodgkin lymphoma and non-Hodgkin lymphoma. The main difference between the two is that Hodgkin lymphoma has distinctive, giant cells called Reed-Sternberg cells. The presence of these cells, which can be seen under a microscope, will help your doctor determine which of the two lymphoma types you have. So, if these cells are not present then that points to non-Hodgkin Lymphoma.
What makes this cancer even more complex is that non-Hodgkin lymphoma has two subtypes: B-cell or T-cell lymphoma (two infection fighting cells). About 85% of people diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma will have B-cell lymphoma. These cells produce antibodies – proteins that react to foreign substances like viruses or bacteria in your body. The antibodies attach to another protein on the surface of the invading cells, called an antigen, to target and destroy them.
Recognizing symptoms of lymphoma can be tricky, which can sometimes lead to late stage diagnoses. However, most common signs to look for include: swollen glands in your neck, armpit, or groin, fever, chills, night sweats, unexplained weight loss, consistent fatigue, or spontaneous swelling in the stomach.
The sneaky nature of symptoms, coupled with a lack of screening for lymphoma, leads many people to be diagnosed at an advanced stage — III or IV. By that point, the cancer may have already spread throughout their body. Yet even at a late stage, the outlook isn’t as dire as many people might assume.
“The one thing that I always reassure people about when they are diagnosed with advanced stage lymphoma is that, unlike other cancers, where advanced stage is a death sentence, that’s certainly not the case for lymphoma,” Dr. Elise Chong, medical oncologist at Penn Medicine, tells SurvivorNet.
For example, the 5-year relative survival rate for early-stage follicular lymphoma is 96%. Once the disease has spread, the 5-year survival rate is 85% — still good odds.
“We have many treatments with which people can either be cured with advanced stage lymphoma or have very good remissions,” Dr. Chong adds. “So it doesn’t change how treatable someone is, even when they do have advanced stage lymphoma.”
Spotting the Symptoms
The first lymphoma symptoms can be so subtle that you might not even notice them. It may not be until you visit your doctor for a check-up that you discover there could be a problem.
“People say, ‘But I feel completely fine,’ and that’s very normal,” Dr. Chong says. If a lump is found, often “it’s only because either someone palpated a lymph node and felt some swelling in their neck or in their groin or under their arm.”
If you are at risk for this cancer because you had cancer or an organ transplant in the past, you have an autoimmune disease, or you have an infection such as HIV or Epstein-Barr, it may be worth watching out for symptoms like these:
- Swollen lymph nodes in your neck, armpits, or groin
- Weight loss
- Swollen belly
But keep in mind that these are more likely to be symptoms of something far less serious, such as a run-of-the-mill infection.
There are also a group of symptoms doctors refer to as “B symptoms.” Those include a fever, night sweats, or weight loss. “If people are having any of these symptoms, it’s really important that they tell their physician early so that the proper testing can be done,” Dr. Chong says.
Finding Lymphoma With Imaging Tests
Sometimes the first sign of lymphoma appears not as a symptom, but as a clue on an imaging test that’s done for another reason. “I have patients who’ve gotten into car accidents and said, ‘I had a scan of my body and they saw these lymph nodes,’ and that’s how initially the lymphoma was found,” says Dr. Chong.
If your symptoms appear first, your doctor might send you for an imaging test. An x-ray or computed tomography (CT) scan can identify the cause.
The only way to confirm whether you have lymphoma is with a biopsy. Your doctor will remove a piece of tissue from a lymph node, or the entire node. Then, a specially trained doctor called a pathologist examines the sample in a laboratory to see whether it contains lymphoma cells, and if so, which type of lymphoma they are.
A biopsy can either put your mind at ease by letting you know that you don’t have cancer, or give you a sense of direction by giving your doctor a launching-off point to plan your treatment. If you do have lymphoma, you can get at least some comfort from knowing that there are a number of good treatments to help manage it, even if you’re diagnosed at an advanced stage.
Your doctor tells you that you could have lymphoma. Now you need a biopsy to find out for sure. Going in for a test like this can be stressful. The worry hangs over you that you could have cancer. Plus, you’ll have to undergo a procedure that could be somewhat invasive.
The experience you can expect going into a biopsy “depends on the type of biopsy that’s being performed,” Dr. Chong previously told SurvivorNet.
There are a couple of different types of biopsy used to diagnose lymphoma:
- Surgical biopsies remove part or all of a lymph node through an incision in the skin
- Needle biopsies remove a smaller amount of tissue through a thin or wider hollow needle
- Have a talk with your doctor about whichever procedure he or she recommends — including its risks.
Contributing: SurvivorNet Staff