Hodgkin's disease

Hodgkin's disease

What is Hodgkin's disease?

It is a type of lymphoma. Lymphomas are cancers that develop in the lymphatic system, a part of the body's immune system. The job of the lymphatic system is to help fight diseases and infection. It is usually characterised by painless enlargement of one or more groups of lymph nodes in the neck, armpits, groin and chest.

Like all types of cancer, cells in the lymphatic system grow abnormally and can spread to other organs. As the disease progresses, the body is less able to fight infection.

It is not a very an uncommon disease, affecting mainly young people aged 15 to 34, and people over the age of 55. It is more common in men than in women.

What causes Hodgkin's disease?

The cause of Hodgkin’s disease is unknown but certain factors may predispose to this condition.

  • Patients with certain genetic immunodeficiency disorders may be more susceptible to the disease.
  • Environmental factors such as the presence of nitrates in water, and the use of herbicides and insecticides in farmers.

What are the symptoms of Hodgkin's disease?

The main symptom is painless swelling in the lymph nodes in the neck, underarm, or groin.

Other symptoms may include:

  • Fevers, night sweats, tiredness
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Itching skin.

What will my doctor look for?

He will review your medical history, as well as discussing recent infections. You will be asked questions about the swellings, how long you have them, if they are painful, so other conditions can be ruled out.

Investigations that may be carried out include a biopsy of a lymph node where a sample of the tissue is removed for microscopic analysis. If Hodgkins disease is present, abnormal cells will be identified in the laboratory and the proportions of the various cells present in the sample will allow more precise classification of the disease.

The extent of the disease will also need to be clarified. This means that scans (CT and / or MRI scans) will be carried out to identify which groups of lymph nodes and other organs are affected by the disease. This will allow the doctors to determine the stage of the disease.

Both the type and stage of the disease are important for the planning of treatment.

What is the treatment for Hodgkin's disease?

Treatment depends on the location, extent and stage of the disease in the body, as well as the general health of the patient. Radiation therapy is usually curative in the early stages of the disease. A combination of radiotherapy and chemotherapy (with anticancer drugs) is usually recommended with more advanced disease. Treatment in the early stages involves only radiation, while chemotherapy is reserved for the later stages of the illness.

What does the future hold?

Hodgkin's disease is considered to be the most curable of all the blood cancers. However, there is the possibility of recurrence.

As with other forms of cancer, the earlier it is detected, the better the survival rate. With modern radiotherapy and chemotherapy, more than 75% of all newly diagnosed Hodgkin's disease patients can be cured.

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