Lymphoma Screening

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There is no national lymphoma screening programme in the UK. Yet diagnosing lymphoma in its earliest stages is key to curing it. This means that it’s important to get tested as soon as possible if you suspect you may have lymphoma.

Swollen lymph nodes, fever or night sweats, chest pain, loss in appetite and weight loss, and stomach ache are the most common lymphoma symptoms. A lymph node biopsy, that takes a sample or all of an affected lymph node is the only way to confirm a diagnosis of lymphoma. Further tests may be performed to check how far the lymphoma has spread. This can help to stage and grade your lymphoma.

At Ramsay, you can conveniently arrange to see a haematologist specialist if you are concerned about lymphoma. They will examine you and request any required diagnostic tests.


What is lymphoma?

Lymphoma is the fifth most common type of cancer in the UK. It can occur at any age including in children. The good news is that it is nearly always treatable and most people live for many years after a lymphoma diagnosis.

Lymphoma is a blood cancer. It develops when your white blood cells, called lymphocytes, grow out of control as they divide continuously before they are mature and they do not die when they should.

Lymphocytes travel around your body in your lymphatic system. They help fight infections as part of your immune system. Your lymphatic system runs throughout your body. It is similar to your blood circulatory system but it carries a fluid called lymph. Lymph fluid passes through your lymph nodes that are found throughout your body.

Lymphoma lymphocyte cells can't fight infection as normal white blood cells do. These abnormal lymphocytes usually build up in the lymph nodes of your armpits, neck or groin. They can also collect in other places such as the bone marrow or spleen. They can then grow into tumours and cause problems in your lymphatic system or in the affected organ. For example, a lymphoma in your thyroid gland can affect the normal production of thyroid hormones.

There are two main types of lymphoma. They are different diseases and treatment is different for them:

  • Non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL) – is a common cancer that is predominantly found in people aged over 65. There are many different types of NHL. Doctors give NHL a grade, depending on how quickly it is likely to grow.
  • Hodgkin lymphoma (HL) – is a rarer cancer. There are four types of HL that all contain a type of white blood cell that has become cancerous, called Reed-Sternberg cells.


How is lymphoma diagnosed?

There are a number of diagnostic tests to confirm a lymphoma diagnosis.

If you are worried about lymphoma, you can visit your GP who depending on your symptoms may arrange for further tests. You can also self-refer to a haematologist at your local Ramsay hospital who will examine you and arrange further tests.

Lymph node biopsy - is usually be carried out, as this is the only way to confirm a diagnosis of lymphoma. It is a small operation that removes some or all of an affected lymph node, which is then sent to a laboratory for analysis. If a biopsy confirms a diagnosis of lymphoma, further testing is required to check how far the lymphoma has spread.

Further tests may include:

  • blood tests – blood samples are taken throughout your diagnosis and treatment. They check your general health, the levels of red and white cells and platelets in your blood, and how well your liver and kidney are working.
  • chest X-ray – pictures of the inside of your body check if the lymphoma has spread to your chest or lungs.
  • bone marrow sample – a biopsy sample of bone marrow is taken from your pelvis to check if the lymphoma has spread to your bone marrow.
  • CT scan – uses X-ray and a computer to take a series of X-rays that build up a 3D picture of the inside of your body to check the spread of cancer.
  • MRI scan – uses magnetism and radio waves to build up a detailed picture of areas of your body to check the spread of cancer. It shows up soft tissue very clearly.
  • PET scan – uses a mildly radioactive drug to show body areas that have more active cells than normal. It can check if tissue is active cancer or not. It is usually done at the same time as a CT scan to show how the tissues of different areas of the body are working.
  • lumbar puncture – using a thin needle, a sample of cerebrospinal fluid is taken and examined to see if lymphoma cells have spread into the fluid around your brain and spinal cord.


Symptoms of lymphoma cancer

Symptoms of lymphoma cancer depend on where it starts, what parts of your body it affects, and what type of lymphoma it is. Often symptoms are mild and non-specific making lymphoma difficult to diagnose from symptoms alone.

The most common symptom of lymphoma is a painless swelling in a lymph node, most typically in your neck, armpit or groin.

Other general symptoms can include:

  • fatigue
  • high temperatures that come and go with no obvious cause
  • unexplained drenching night sweats
  • unintended weight loss
  • a loss of appetite
  • itchy skin
  • coughing or shortness of breath or chest pain
  • abdominal discomfort
  • alcohol sensitivity

There can be many other symptoms depending on where your lymphoma is in your body and whether enlarged lymph nodes are pressing on an organ or nerve.


What are the screening tests for lymphoma?

Currently, there is no national screening programme for lymphoma in the UK. The reasons that regular screening is not available for the general public are that it isn't clear that lymphoma screening can save lives, the tests have risks, and some of the tests can be expensive.

It is therefore important to be aware of lymphoma symptoms. You should see your GP if you have any of the symptoms of lymphoma or you are worried about your lymphoma risk.

Ramsay has multidisciplinary teams of lymphoma experts who use the latest technologies to find out if patients have lymphoma cancer. If a patient is diagnosed with lymphoma, our haematology consultants will develop a tailored treatment plan.


How do I get screened for lymphoma?

There is no national screening programme for lymphoma cancer. If you have lymphoma symptoms or you think that you are at risk of this cancer, you should speak with your doctor.

At Ramsay, we offer fast access to convenient appointments for patients who are concerned about lymphoma. Your experienced and expert haematologist will perform a physical exam, discuss your medical and family history, and request any required diagnostic tests.


Lymphoma Screening at Ramsay Health Care

It’s important to speak to an expert when you are worried about lympoma cancer symptoms, our conveniently located Ramsay hospitals offer tests to diagnose lymphoma without waiting with oncology experts.

You can read more about our cancer care and treatments or please get in touch if you’d like to talk to us about any concerns.

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