Hodgkin’s disease is part of the lymphoma family and is a cancer which affects the lymphatic system. Seriously fatal in the past, its prognosis has improved greatly over the last few years.
Definition: what is Hodgkin’s disease?
Hodgkin’s disease is one of the two lymphoma categories, or a type of cancer from the lymphatic system, with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
It starts by increasing the volume of the lymphatic glands as a result of the Reed-Sternberg cells developing, which are the tumor cells associated with the disease. This then travels progressively via the lymphatic system and can affect the liver, the spleen, the tonsils, bone marrow or even the thymus.
Hodgkin’s disease is a lot less common than non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and affects around 3 people in 100,000, most commonly adults between the ages of 20 and 40.
The prognosis of Hodgkin’s disease has considerably improved in the last few years. Whilst it was fatal in the past, nowadays it can be completely cured in 60 to 95% of cases.
Symptoms of Hodgkin’s disease
As for all lymphomas, the first clinical sign of Hodgkin’s disease is a considerable increase in the volume of the glands. It is not painful and is found around the groin, neck or underarms.
There is also very often a fever, night sweats, fatigue as well as a loss of appetite linked to weight loss.
Causes of Hodgkin’s disease
The causes of Hodgkin’s disease are still rather unknown. Research has however shown the Epstein-Barr virus, which causes infectious mononucleosis (glandular fever), increases the risks of contracting this disease.
Diagnosis of Hodgkin’s disease
The main test done to detect Hodgkin’s disease is a lymph node biopsy. This is done by making a small incision in order to extract a part of the lymph node. Analysis is then done on this tissue to detect cancerous cells and confirm the presence of lymphoma.
A blood test, chest X-ray or an abdomen scan can also help the doctor to make their diagnosis.
Treating Hodgkin’s disease
During the early stage of Hodgkin’s disease, treatment relies on radiotherapy which involves targets the affected glands with high powered X-rays.
If the disease progresses to an advanced stage, chemotherapy is used to destroy the Reed-Sternberg cells and is often combined with radiotherapy.
Treatment can also involve a stem cell autograft which is when the healthy cells are removed from the bone marrow before chemotherapy and are then reintroduced afterwards.