What is lymphoma?
Lymphoma is a type of blood cancer that affects the lymphatic tissue/organs. These include the lymph nodes and spleen, which among other functions, help the cells of our immune system develop and function properly. However, when certain cells of this system, called lymphocytes grow uncontrollably within the lymphoid organs or bone marrow, lymphoma is the result. Lymphoma is among the top ten cancers to be diagnosed in Singapore every year.
What are the symptoms of lymphoma?
A common symptom of lymphoma is painless swelling of lymph nodes. The most common parts of the body where swollen nodes can be felt are the neck, underarm, and groin. Other symptoms include persistent fever, drenching night sweats, red or itchy skin, poor appetite, and unexplained weight loss. Lymphoma can also cause lack of energy, tiredness, fatigue, and increased susceptibility to infections.
What are the causes of and risk factors for lymphoma?
It is important to note that there are many subtypes of lymphoma and the factors listed below may increase the risk of developing a certain subtype while not increasing the risk of developing other subtypes.
• Increasing age.
• Long-standing infections (e.g. Helicobacter pylori, hepatitis C) and illnesses like autoimmune disease
• Weakened immune system from human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infection or after organ transplantation
• Rare viruses that can infect normal immune cells and influence transformation to lymphoma (e.g. HTLV-1, human herpesvirus-8)
• Certain types of breast implants have been related to a specific subtype called anaplastic large cell lymphoma
Did you know?
There are many different types of lymphoma, but the two general classes are Hodgkin’s and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. 
What are the possible complications of lymphoma?
Lymphoma can cause a weakened immune system and make someone more prone to serious infections. If left untreated, lymphoma can eventually cause organ damage, e.g. kidneys, and bone marrow.
Most lymphoma treatments will cause a decline in the immune system function and make a patient more prone to sickness or infection. Once the lymphoma is treated and goes away, the immune system has a chance to get better and usually recovers over time.
When should I see a specialist for lymphoma?
If left untreated, aggressive lymphomas are fatal so any patient with lymphoma should seek treatment with a haematologist or medical oncologist as early as possible. The prognosis and survival rate for lymphoma can vary widely, depending on the type and stage, so accurate diagnosis and management is critical for good outcomes.
How should I prepare for my appointment?
You should try to remember all your symptoms that brought you to seek medical attention in the first place. You should also bring along previous and most recent test reports, like your blood test and scan reports.
What treatments are available for lymphoma?
Most lymphomas are treated with a combination of chemotherapy and immunotherapy. Immunotherapies that are used most commonly are man-made antibodies. In certain situations, more targeted therapies which may consist of oral medications alone, injections that invigorate a patient’s own immune system to kill lymphoma cells, and/or injections that try to program lymphoma cells to die are used.Request an appointment with a haematologist today.
 Armitage, James O., et al. “Non-Hodgkin lymphoma.” The Lancet (2017).
Reviewed by: Dr Colin Phipps Diong
Parkway Cancer Centre
Mount Elizabeth Medical Centre