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Lymphoma - What it is

lymphoma conditions and treatments

Lymphoma is a type of cancer that affects the body’s lymphatic system. It is a cancer of a type of white blood cells called Lymphocytes which are part of this system. The lymphatic system is part of the body’s immune system made up of a network of cells and tissues including the white cells called Lymphocytes, lymphatic vessels and organs that work together to fight germs and rid the body of toxins, waste and unwanted materials. The lymphatic system transports lymph, a fluid containing infection-fighting white blood cells, throughout the body.

Patients with lymphoma often notice a swelling of their lymph nodes caused by the formation of painless lumps or tumours. Clusters of lymph nodes are located in the neck, armpits and groin and in Lymphoma patients might have lumps in these regions. Lymphoma can also occur in other organs as small amounts of lymph and lymph tissue pass through virtually all organs in the body.

Lymphoma can be broadly divided into two categories based on pattern of cells noticed in the biopsy (small chunk of tissue obtained via a needle or a minor surgical procedure) of the affected lymph node or tissue as follows:

  • Hodgkin’s lymphoma (also known as Hodgkin’s disease): Patients diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma often have large abnormal cells called Reed-Sternberg cells in their lymph nodes. This disease is highly curable and accounts for about 10 per cent of all lymphoma cases. Hodgkin’s lymphoma is most prevalent in:
    • People between 15 and 40 years of age
    • People aged 55 years and above
  • Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma: Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma is more common and can be divided into two types:
    1. Aggressive (high grade) non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma which tends to grow and spread quickly and cause severe symptoms. If left untreated, it can be fatal within a few months or sooner.
    2. Slow-growing (low-grade) non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma which tends to grow and spread slowly and cause few symptoms. It is harder to treat and carries a higher risk of relapse.

    Based on type of the Lymphocytes in which the lymphoma originates, lymphomas can also be classified as B cell or T cell Lymphoma respectively arising from B or T Lymphocytes. B-Cell Lymphomas are generally much more common than T-Cell lymphomas. Globally T-Cell Lymphomas are more common in Asia than in the west. NK (Natural-Killer cells) lymphomas are classified under T-cell Lymphomas.

    The risk of developing non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma increases with age, with most patients diagnosed in their 60s and beyond.

Lymphoma is the fourth most common cancer in males and fifth most common cancer in females in Singapore. Over a five-year period from 2017 to 2021, more than 5,000 cases were reported in Singapore.

Lymphoma - Preparing for surgery

Lymphoma - Post-surgery care