For today’s post I will tackle a reader question. This question comes from Angela:
Ken. What does lymphoma mean? Someone I work with has lymphoma cancer like you.
That is a great question. Lymphoma is cancer of the lymphatic system. A nice easy answer. But I think I’ll go a little bit more into it and explain what the lymphatic system is.
The lymphatic system is part of the body’s immune system. On the University of Rochester Medical Center website I found a really good definition of the lymphatic system:
It helps the body fight disease and sickness. The lymphatic system consists of a series of thin tubes and clusters of lymph nodes throughout the body. These tubes carry fluid, called lymph, through the lymph nodes and back into the bloodstream. This colorless, watery fluid is rich in white blood cells. Lymphocytes are the main type of cells. They help the body fight off infection. A lymph node is about the size of a pea and has large numbers of lymphocytes. Groups of lymph nodes are found in the stomach, chest, groin, and neck. Some of the body’s internal organs are also part of the lymphatic system. These organs include the bone marrow, spleen, thymus, and tonsils. Other organs, such as parts of the digestive tract, also contain lymph tissue. Lymphoma can start in any part of the body where there is lymphatic tissue.
The picture I have attached to this post is an old artists rendering of the lymphatic system. As part of their normal operation lymph nodes will swell as needed. For instance if the body determines more lymph cells are needed to fight a throat infection, the lymph nodes in the neck may swell so they can create more lymph cells for the body to use fighting that infection. In the case of lymphoma there is also likely to be swelling of lymph nodes. In my case I had many (probably dozens) lymph nodes which were swollen. One difference between normal swelling of the lymph nodes and my cancerous swollen lymph nodes is their hardness. Normally even swollen lymph nodes are squishy. My cancerous lymph nodes felt like a hard rubber.
From my PET scan I was able to see that my lymphatic system is well infected with lymphoma. My spleen and bone marrow are also infected, both of which are part of the lymphatic system. Actually I have had major digestive issues over the last couple of years. I now wonder if this isn’t somehow due to the lymphoma.
The most common lymph nodes people probably hear about are probably the tonsils. Many people, including one of my sons, have their tonsils removed due to childhood illnesses. Also you have likely had doctors check your lymph nodes or the lymph nodes of you children. I know recently I had to bring my children in because of a virus. One of the first things the doctor did was feel their necks, just under the back jaws. This is one of the places where lymph nodes are accessible from the outside. A swollen lymph node could give the doctor an indication the body’s lymphatic system has become active to fight infection.
In a future post I will talk more about lymphoma and the different types of lymphomas. For now though this is a good primer about lymph nodes to help people understand them. I’ve also included some of my personal examples dealing with the lymphatic system.