Lymph node cancer (lymphoma) is a cancer of the lymphatic system. This includes the lymph glands and lymph nodes. As in the case of certain forms of (leukaemia), lymphomas develop from blood cells – lymphocytes. In contrast to leukaemia, however, only individual lymph nodes rather than haematopoiesis in the bone marrow are usually affected by lymphoma. This is where the term lymph node cancer stems from. There are two different types of lymphoma: Hodgkin’s lymphoma and all other lymphomas, which are summarised under the term Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Hodgkin’s lymphoma is a less aggressive type of lymph node cancer. There are aggressive and less aggressive forms among Non-Hodgkin’s lymphomas.
Around 1,500 people are diagnosed with lymph node cancer in Switzerland ever year. Thus, lymph node cancer is the sixth most common type of cancer in Switzerland. 85% of lymphoma cancers are non-Hodgkin lymphomas. Men are affected slightly more often than women. Lymph node cancer can occur at every age; however, Hodgkin’s lymphoma frequently occurs between the age of 20 and 40, and Non-Hodgkin’s lymphomas often only after the age of 70. The cancers are divided into the main groups of Hodgkin’s lymphoma and Non-Hodgkin's lymphoma based on the characteristics and appearance of the cancer cells.
Hodgkin’s lymphoma, which has characteristically large cells, was discovered by British doctor Thomas Hodgkin. Hodgkin’s lymphoma is one of the less malignant types of lymph node cancer. If the cancer is detected early and the patient undergoes consistent treatment, the recovery rates are good.
There are malignant and less malignant forms of Non-Hodgkin’s lymphomas. However, recovery or a significant prolongation of life is possible for patients with malignant forms of this cancer nowadays.
No one knows why a lymphoma occurs. Chronic viral infections such as the HIV infection or hepatitis as well as a weakened immune symptoms are deemed to be risk factors.
Characteristic symptoms of cancer of the lymph nodes are swelling in the lymph nodes and general symptoms such as fever, night sweats, weight loss and fatigue. Swollen lymph nodes are also a symptom of infections and are not really a reason for worry. However, if the swelling lasts longer than several days and is connected with symptoms such as weight loss or night sweats, medical advice should definitely be sought.
Lymph node cancer is diagnosed on the basis of the patient’s medical history and with different examinations. They include blood tests, a biopsy of suspicious lymph nodes and a bone marrow puncture.
The treatment depends on the type of lymph node cancer. Depending on the stage of the disease chemotherapy, radiation therapy, or a combination of the two will be used. In particular cases, stem cell transplantation is a treatment option.