Although very rare, Hodgkin’s disease (also known as Hodgkin’s lymphoma) has proved to be one of the worst types of cancer because of the problems related to the disease and its treatment.
Hodgkin’s disease is a very rare type of lymphoma (cancer of lymph tissues), which is found in the lymph nodes, liver, spleen, and bone marrow (lymphatic system). In this disease, Reed-Sternberg cells (RS) are found with abnormality in the lymphatic system. This disease can occur in people of any age, but it is prevalent in two age groups – 15-37 years and over-50 years.
The disease was named after a scientist, Dr. Thomas Hodgkin who first described it. It attacks the lymphatic system in our body and spreads from one lymphatic node group to another. The lymphatic system works as a guard and fights with infections in our body. The system consists of tonsils, bone marrow, lymph nodes, and spleen. Hodgkin’s system compromises our body’s ability to fight with infections, and thus, makes it vulnerable to any kind of infectious diseases.
There is no specific known cause for the occurrence of this disease. Just like in the case of any other type of cancer, possibilities are that it is caused due to microbial infection or existence of virus in the host’s body. According to some researchers, people with a history of Epstein-Barr virus are at a higher risk of developing the disease. Also, a person is prone to this disease if any of his/her family members have ever had it.
It can be classified into five subtypes, based on the composition of reactive cell infiltrate and Reed-Sternberg cell morphology developed in lymphatic node groups. These subtypes are:
- Nodular Sclerosis (this is the most common type in which large tumor nodules are developed with lacunar RS cells) It is divided into nodular sclerosis type I and type II.
- Lymphocyte Depleted
This disease is also classified in four stages, which are based on the extent of its development and spread within the host’s body.
- Stage I: In this stage, the lymphoma has started with only one lymphatic node. It is the primary stage of the disease. More than 90% cases diagnosed in this stage get cured, and the patient can live a long life.
- Stage II: In this stage, more than one lymph node gets infected on the same side of diaphragm.
- Stage III: In this stage, lymph node regions on both the sides of the diaphragm get infected. This may include the spleen and/or a limited contiguous extralymphatic organ.
- Stage IV: This stage is considered the most advanced stage. Here, the lymph node regions get infected, and the lymphoma spreads to other organs of the body (for example: liver, bone marrow, tonsils etc.).
- Sudden and unexplained weight loss
- Painless swelling of lymph nodes in the neck, groin, and armpits
- Fever, chills, and sweating at night
- Loss of appetite
- Hepatomegaly or swelling of the liver (in some cases)
- Back pain (in some cases)
- Enlargement of spleen (again, in some patients)
Your doctor will need you to undergo some tests in order to confirm if you are suffering from this particular syndrome, and not from any other non-cancerous, lymph node-related problems. You may have to undergo one or more of the following tests:
- Biopsy: In this test, tissues from lymph nodes are collected and examined for any trace of the disease.
- Blood Test: Blood is tested in order to confirm normal functioning of all the body organs.
- Positron Emission Tomography and Gallium Scan: These are used to detect smaller deposits in the body, which generally don’t show in CT scan.
- X-Ray or CT Scan: Picture of lymph nodes can help in confirming any abnormal changes in the lymph nodes.
Once doctor confirms the disorder based on the diagnostic tests, he may decide to use one or a combination of available treatment options in order to treat the disease, based on the stage of the disease, patient’s condition, etc. The treatment options available are:
- Radiation Therapy: It is used to eliminate the cancerous cells and tumors developing in lymph node regions, with the help of strong X-rays. This therapy has side effects, such as destruction of some non-cancerous cells, problems related to stomach, fatigue etc.
- Chemotherapy: In this therapy, strong medications are used to kill the infected cells, and fight the disease. These medicines are very powerful, but they also have many side effects including hair loss, vomiting, nausea, loss of blood cells etc. One of the most dangerous side effects of this therapy is that it weakens the patient’s (generally children) infection fighting ability.
Disclaimer: This HealthHearty article is for informative purposes only, and should not be used as a replacement for expert medical advice.