Throughout history, cancer diagnosis has never been good news. In ancient Egypt, a diagnosis of a breast lump with arm swelling -a sign of cancer invasion- meant certain death in the near future. Advances in medicine, however, have made many cancers potentially curable and many surgeries more successful and less debilitating for patients. Hodgkin’s lymphoma is one of the few success stories that have been achieved thanks to new therapies and intensive clinical research.
What is Hodgkin’s lymphoma and how does it happen?
Hodgkin’s lymphoma is a cancer originating from a type of white blood cells called lymphocytes. Such cells are not only found in blood, but also in lymph nodes, the spleen, the liver and even the skin. They play an essential role in maintaining our immunity and -ironically- protect us against cancers and autoimmune conditions. Lymphocytes are of 2 main types: B and T lymphocytes. B lymphocytes originate in the bone marrow and that is where they mature, while T lymphocytes also originate in the bone marrow but mature in a small gland found in our chest in front of our hearts called the thymus.
Like many cancers, the exact cause of Hodgkin’s lymphoma is not one but the correlation of many different risk factors. One important risk factor found in about half Hodgkin’s lymphoma patients is infection with Epstein-Barr virus. This virus causes a condition called infectious mononucleosis especially in children and can affect lymphocytes in a way so as to trigger their conversion to cancer cells. This doesn’t mean that a large number of Epstein-Barr virus patients will develop Hodgkin’s since only 1 in 1000 cases develop the condition. Other risk factors include family history of lymphomas and infection with HIV.