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How different is Hodgkin’s vs. non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma?

by KATHY HUBBARD Contributing Writer
| September 1, 2021 1:00 AM

“My lymphoma symptoms started with a cough. The doctor said it was bronchitis. I finished medicines, and my tonsil blew up like an egg. I went back to the doctor and got sent to a specialist where I found out it was non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma cancer.” The woman speaking is between 45 and 50, and I found her story on emedicinehealth.com.

Another story on that same website was from a much younger woman. Her age range was 19 to 24: “My lymphoma started with a lump on my neck. I thought it was the way I sleep, and since it didn’t hurt, I didn’t do anything about it. Then I got a bad cough that was horrible … Then more lumps came out on my neck and armpits. So I went to the doctor and found it was Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

Lymphoma is a type of cancer. Most cancers are identified by where the tumor is initially situated. You know, breast cancer, liver cancer, etc. However, some more obscure names are used to identify cancers, and lymphoma is one of them.

“Lymphoma is a cancer that impacts certain cells in the immune system,” the National Foundation of Cancer Research explains. “A normal lymphatic system carries a colorless fluid called lymph via tubes and lymph nodes. Lymph is transported to many parts of the body, such as the spleen, tonsils, thymus, and bone marrow. Various kinds of white blood cells are found within lymph and help fight disease within the body.” Though, even with this understanding, lymphoma throws another wrench into the gears. Lymphoma diagnoses are then broken down into types: Hodgkin’s and non-Hodgkin’s.

Both types are relatively rare. Hodgkin’s lymphoma will more typically affect people in the 15 to 24-year-old range, while non-Hodgkin’s occurs more frequently in the over 60 age group. Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma has an estimated 70,000 new cases per year, while Hodgkin’s only claims 8,000 cases annually.

“While both non-Hodgkin’s and Hodgkin’s lymphoma affect the lymphatic system, they often impact different parts of the system,” NFCR says. “Hodgkin’s lymphoma typically occurs in the lymph nodes found in the neck, chest, or underarms. It often progresses in a predictable fashion moving from one group of lymph nodes to the next. Progressing in such an orderly fashion allows the cancer to be detected and treated at an early stage.

“Hodgkin’s lymphoma is recognized as one of the most treatable cancers, with over 90 percent of patients surviving more than five years. Non-Hodgkin’s, however, often arises in various parts of the body. It can surface in similar lymph nodes as Hodgkin’s lymphoma or even in the groin and abdomen. Because of this, most cases of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma is diagnosed at an advanced stage.”

Just to add a bit of confusion into the mix, there are over sixty subtypes of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. And, to add a bit of concern, from 1975 to 2013, the rate of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma cases nearly doubled, and medicos don’t know why.

In most cases, scientists can’t give you a cause for the disease. However, they know that men are at higher risk, as are people with a weakened immune system. Also at risk are people with immune system diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, Sjogren’s syndrome, lupus, or celiac disease.

WebMD says that you might be more at risk if “you have a close relative who had lymphoma; were exposed to benzene or chemicals that kill bugs and weeds; have been infected with a virus such as Epstein-Barr, hepatitis C, or human T-cell leukemia/lymphoma and were treated for cancer with radiation.”

Signs to look for are painless swollen glands, often in the neck, armpit, or groin; cough; shortness of breath; fever; night sweats; fatigue; weight loss, and itching. These symptoms can be either Hodgkin’s or non-Hodgkin’s or an abundance of other diseases. So, once again, I’ll tell you to call your primary care provider if you have any symptoms that don’t go away in a week to ten days.

Treatments can include chemotherapy, radiation therapy, immunotherapy, and in some cases, a stem cell transplant will be necessary. “Treatments have improved a lot, and many people do very well after treatment,” WebMD says. So, I say, don’t put off getting checked out.

Kathy Hubbard is a member of the Bonner General Health Foundation Advisory Council. She can be reached at kathyleehubbard@yahoo.com.

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Kathy Hubbard

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