Early diagnosis and treatment may lead to full recovery for Hodgkin’s lymphoma

Hodgkin’s lymphoma, formerly called Hodgkin’s disease, is considered one of the most treatable forms of cancer if it’s found early. It is relatively rare and the word “cancer” is not in its name, so many people are not aware of it or the fact that it is a type of cancer.

Hodgkin’s lymphoma, named for Dr. Thomas Hodgkin who first noted a trend of cancer cases in the lymph nodes in 1832, is a cancer of the blood and bone marrow. It starts in lymphocytes, which are white blood cells of the lymphatic system. The lymphatic system works with other parts of the immune system to help your body fight infection and disease.

The causes of Hodgkin’s lymphoma are unclear but it starts when a lymphocyte develops a genetic mutation that tells the cell to multiply rapidly. Then those diseased cells continue to multiply and grow and form tumours called lymphomas, which can start almost anywhere in the body, most often in the chest, neck or under the arms. They can then spread to almost any tissue or organ through the lymphatic system or the bloodstream.

Stats on Hodgkin’s lymphoma

Hodgkin’s lymphoma can affect people of any age, but it’s most common between ages 20 and 40 and after age 55 and occurs more frequently in males than females. The probability of developing Hodgkin’s lymphoma is one in 432 for men and one in 498 for women. It accounts for about 0.5% of all cancers and 15% of all lymphomas diagnosed. Approximately 900 people in Canada are diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma every year. The 5-year net survival is 85%, which means that on average, about 85% of people diagnosed will survive for at least 5 years. Advances in diagnosis and treatment have helped give people with Hodgkin’s lymphoma the chance for a full recovery.

Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma is the more common form of lymphatic cancer and the prognosis varies according to the specific type and how much it has spread. The 5-year survival rate in Canada for non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma is about 66%.

Signs and symptoms of Hodgkin’s lymphoma

Symptoms include:

  • Painless swelling of the lymph nodes in the neck, armpits or groin
  • Persistent fatigue
  • Fever and chills
  • Night sweats
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Loss of appetite
  • Itchy skin
  • Increased sensitivity to the effects of alcohol or pain in the lymph nodes after drinking alcohol

Diagnosis of Hodgkin’s lymphoma

If Hodgkin’s lymphoma is found early, the chances of successful treatment are better. See your doctor if you have any signs or symptoms.

Your doctor will ask about your personal and family medical history and may have you undergo tests and procedures including: a physical exam to check for swollen lymph nodes; blood tests; imaging tests such as X-ray, CT and positron emission tomography; a lymph node biopsy; and/or a bone marrow biopsy. Other tests and procedures may be used depending on your situation.

Treatment of Hodgkin’s lymphoma

The treatment plan for Hodgkin’s lymphoma depends primarily on its stage – early or advanced. Your healthcare team will also consider in which areas of the body it is found, your age and your overall health. The goal is to destroy as many cancer cells as possible and bring the disease into remission.

They may recommend one or more of the following treatments:

Chemotherapy: the preferred treatment for Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

Radiation therapy: usually given after chemotherapy.

Stem cell transplant, also known as bone marrow transplant: may be used if Hodgkin’s lymphoma recurs, after other treatments or if the cancer no longer responds to treatment.

Targeted therapy drugs: may be given in the event of recurrence or lack of response to treatment.

Follow-up care

It’s important to have regular follow-up visits with your healthcare team in the first 5 years after treatment, and once a year after that, to monitor your progress and recovery.