Approximately 13,700 people are diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma in the UK every year. Figures from Cancer Research UK show that 80% of these people are alive one year after being diagnosed, while 68% of men and 70% of women still live five years after being diagnosed.
Non-Hodgkin lymphoma is a type of cancer that emerges in the patient's lymph nodes. There are 30 different subtypes of cancer within this category of non-Hodgkin lymphoma.
There are various theories about what can cause non-Hodgkin lymphoma, but in most cases, the doctors do not know what it is caused by.
According to Cancer Research UK, patients with hepatitis C are at a two to three times higher risk of developing the disease, whereas patients with hepatitis B do not seem to be at increased risk. Other infectious diseases such as mononucleosis (popularly called glandular fever) and infection of the stomach lining are associated with both non-Hodgkin lymphoma and other types of cancer.
For individuals with a compromised immune system, these diseases can trigger a process that can result in cancer, but it is extremely rare that it happens. In addition, researchers also point out that overweight can cause cancer, but only minimal evidence of this has been found.
When people develop cancer, it can also happen by chance and with the cause being completely unknown. All human organs contain stem cells that help renew the cells of the body when the old ones become worn. The stem cells can mutate by chance and in most cases, this is not an issue, but as we age, the mutated cells accumulate in the body.
The more these mutated cells accumulate, the greater the risk is that one of them will function so adversely that it develops into a cancer cell, which then begins to divide uncontrollably at varying rates, depending on how aggressive the developed type of cancer is.
The four stages
There are four different stages of non-Hodgkin lymphoma:
In addition to this, the disease is divided into categories A and B, depending on whether the patient experiences common symptoms caused by the disease. These may include night sweats, fever and weight loss. If the patient has stage 1 non-Hodgkin lymphoma, but experiences no symptoms, it is called 1A. On the other hand, if the patient does experience symptoms, it is called 1B.
Moreover, it varies how active the disease is. Non-Hodgkin lymphoma is therefore also divided into categories according to how aggressive the cancer is.
- Indolent lymphomas:These types of lymphoma grow slowly and the progression takes place over months and years.
- Aggressive lymphomas: These types of lymphoma grow rapidly and the progression takes place over weeks and months.
- Very aggressive lymphomas:These types of lymphoma grow very rapidly and the progression takes place over days and weeks.
In some of the instances where non-Hodgkin lymphoma occurs without symptoms, doctors refrain from treating the disease. Instead, the doctors closely follow the progression of the cancer on a continuous basis. This is done in order to avoid the side effects that occur with any type of treatment e.g. with chemotherapy or radiation therapy.
Chemotherapy is the most common form of treatment used with patients who suffer from non-Hodgkin lymphoma. If the disease is indolent, i.e. growing slowly, the patient is able to make do with so-called “mild chemotherapy”. This means that the treatment occurs on an outpatient basis, i.e. without hospitalisation.
The treatment occurs via tablets that help keep the disease contained. The side effects of mild chemotherapy are limited, but in some cases, patients experience increased fatigue and nausea.
Stronger chemotherapy usually consists of six to eight treatments with a two-week interval between each treatment. This can also be done on an outpatient basis, so that the patients can maintain a normal everyday life. However, the stronger the dose is, the more difficult it can be for the patient to maintain a normal everyday life. The dose is adjusted according to how aggressive the type of cancer is.