Lymphoma is the third most common childhood cancer. It is cancer of the lymphatic system, which is made up of thin tubes that branch like blood vessels into all parts of the body. These lymph vessels carry lymph, a colorless, watery fluid containing white blood cells called lymphocytes. Along the network of vessels are lymph nodes, groups of small bean-shaped organs that make and store infection-fighting cells.
There are clusters of lymph nodes in the underarm, groin, neck and abdomen. The lymph system also includes the spleen, the thymus, and the tonsils. Because the lymph system is so extensive, lymphoma can start in many locations and spread to almost any organ or tissue.
There are two types of lymphoma — Hodgkin's and non-Hodgkin's. The cause for both diseases is unknown and occurs in one child in 10,000.
Non-Hodgkin's lymphoma occurs between the ages of 7 and 11. It affects boys almost three times more often than girls, and is more common among Caucasian children than among African-Americans and children of other races.
There are three major types of childhood non-Hodgkin's lymphomas:
In many children, non-Hodgkin's lymphoma is already extensive when first diagnosed. About a third of cases originate in the neck or chest, a third in the abdomen and another third elsewhere in the body.
There is often pain and swelling at the site of the cancer. Other symptoms include:
Many symptoms of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma could be caused by other conditions such as infections.
Your child's doctor may request a number of diagnostic tests, including:
The primary treatment for non-Hodgkin's disease is chemotherapy, which uses drugs to kill cancer cells and shrink tumors. Radiation therapy, or the use of high-dose X-rays or other high-energy rays to kill cancer cells and shrink tumors, sometimes is used. Bone marrow transplantation is being tested in studies of patients with advanced disease. The prospect for curing children is now about 70 percent overall.
Chemotherapy uses drugs to kill cancer cells and shrink tumors. It may be taken orally or may be administered into a vein or muscle by needle. Chemotherapy is called a systemic treatment because the drugs enter the bloodstream and can kill cancer cells throughout the body. Chemotherapy also may be injected by needle into the fluid that surrounds the brain or back to treat certain types of lymphoma that spread to the brain.
Reviewed by health care specialists at UCSF Benioff Children's Hospital.