Managing Treatments

Hodgkin Lymphoma Symptoms, Diagnosis and Treatment Options

Hodgkin lymphoma is a treatable cancer of the lymphatic system. If you experience specific Hodgkin lymphoma symptoms, schedule a checkup with your doctor.

Hodgkin lymphoma symptoms are uncomfortable, and if you experience them, make an appointment to see your doctor right away. Of course you don’t want to hear you have cancer, but when caught early, Hodgkin lymphoma is often curable.

What Is Hodgkin Lymphoma?

The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society (LLS) describes Hodgkin lymphoma as one of the most successfully treated forms of cancer. Previously known as Hodgkin’s disease, it’s cancer of the lymphatic system (part of your body’s immune and waste management system) and also affects your blood and bone marrow.

There are two types of lymphoma: Hodgkin lymphoma and non-Hodgkin lymphoma. The difference is the Reed-Sternberg cells that exist in Hodgkin lymphoma and not in non-Hodgkin lymphoma. Hodgkin lymphoma can be broken down into subtypes, classical and nodular. Classical Hodgkin lymphoma has four subtypes, according to the LLS:

  • Nodular sclerosis Hodgkin lymphoma
  • Mixed cellularity Hodgkin lymphoma
  • Lymphocyte-depleted Hodgkin lymphoma
  • Lymphocyte-rich classical Hodgkin lymphoma

These subtypes identify the behavior of your cells and help doctors determine which course of treatment would be most effective.

Hodgkin Lymphoma Symptoms

First, swollen lymph nodes in your armpits, neck or groin are a telltale sign, accompanied by itchy skin. You could experience extreme and unexplained weight loss too. Night sweats, fever and chills, fatigue and a loss of appetite may also occur. Also, if you have an increased sensitivity to alcohol, you may want to see your doctor.

The process of diagnosing Hodgkin lymphoma begins with a physical exam in your doctor’s office. This involves examining your neck, underarm and even your groin to feel for enlarged lymph notes. She may also check your liver and spleen. If further tests are warranted, your doctor may order blood test and imaging tests. If swollen lymph nodes were detected, your doctor may order a biopsy.

What the Stages Mean

The Mayo Clinic explains that the staging of Hodgkin lymphoma refers to the extent to which the disease has spread throughout your body. Staging information is important for determining the best course of treatment. Stages are indicated with Roman numerals, and the severity of the case increases as the numbers increase. These stage numbers may also be accompanied with a letter: “A” indicates that the symptoms common to this stage aren’t yet being experienced, and “B” indicates that you’re experiencing significant symptoms.

  • Stage I: Cancer is present in one lymph node region or organ.
  • Stage II: Cancer is in two lymph node regions or a combination of lymph nodes and organ, but has not spread across your diaphragm.
  • Stage III: Cancer is on both sides of your diaphragm.
  • Stage IV: Cancer has spread to other organs, affecting your liver, lungs, and/or bones in addition to your lymph nodes.

The diaphragm is an important line in diagnosing Hodgkin lymphoma. In early stages, the disease stays either above or below the diaphragm, only crossing that organ as the disease progresses.

Treatment Options

Doctors have a number of different treatments, such as a variety of chemotherapy agents, from which to choose when creating a treatment plan to meet your needs. Your spleen may be removed in a procedure called a splenectomy, as the LLS describes. Bone marrow transplantation and peripheral blood stem cell transplantation are much rarer and used when the previous options were insufficient.

September is Blood Cancer Awareness Month, so take the time to familiarize yourself with the symptoms of this condition and talk to your doctor if this brings up any concerns. Hodgkin lymphoma is usually curable, and early detection can help improve your outcome.

The UVA Cancer Center Hematology/Oncology Division has a team of doctors that specialize in blood cancers, including Hodgkin lymphoma.

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Judy Schwartz Haley
Judy Schwartz Haley