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What is Hodgkin's Disease

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Each year, about 1,300 Americans die of Hodgkin's disease.

Hodgkin's Disease (also called Hodgkin's Lymphoma) is a cancer that starts in lymphatic tissue. It's named after the British physician Thomas Hodgkin, who first described the disease in 1832 and noted several characteristics that distinguish it from other lymphomas.

Quick Facts on Hodgkin's Disease

  • Hodgkin's disease is one of two common types of cancers of the lymphatic system. Non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, the other type, is far more common.
  • Hodgkin's disease most commonly affects people between the ages of 15 and 34 and people older than age 55.
  • In 2003, there were about 7,600 new cases of Hodgkin's disease compared with 53,400 new cases of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma in the United States .
  • Each year, about 1,300 Americans die of Hodgkin's disease. However, death rates for this disease have dropped by 60 percent since the 1970s.
  • Today, 85 percent of people who receive initial treatment experience long-term remission.
  • Advances in diagnosis, staging and treatment of Hodgkin's disease have helped to make this once uniformly fatal disease highly treatable with the potential for full recovery. The overall survival rate after 15 years is almost 70 percent.

Hodgkin's disease is not contagious. You can't "catch" this disease from another person. Lymphomas are cancers that develop in the lymph system, part of the body's immune system.

Hodgkin's disease can start almost anywhere lymph nodes are present. It often starts in lymph nodes in the upper part of the body (chest, neck, or under the arms).

Hodgkin's disease enlarges the lymphatic tissue, and often causes pressure on important structures (such as nearby organs). It can spread through the lymphatic vessels to other lymph nodes. Most Hodgkin's disease spreads to nearby lymph node sites in the body, lymph nodes that are far away. On rare occasions, Hodgkin's disease gets into the blood vessels. When it gets into the blood vessels, it can spread to almost any other part of the body, including the liver and lungs.

In Hodgkin's disease, cells in the lymphatic system become abnormal. They divide too rapidly and grow without any order or control.

Hodgkin's Disease - Causes

Researchers are not sure what causes Non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, but many believe that it is fueled by the activation of faulty (or injured) DNA found in the body's B lymphocytes. Lymphocytes are classified as either B or T cells, depending on their origins. Those produced in the bone marrow are called B cells; those derived from the thymus are labeled T cells. B cells cultivate plasma cells, which produce antibodies intended to abrogate foreign attackers, while T cells kill invaders directly. Roughly 85 percent of non-Hodgkin's cancers originate in B lymphocytes; T cells are to blame for the remaining 15 percent.

Hodgkin's Disease - Symptoms

There are many symptoms and each individual may not experience all symptoms. Some of the symptoms are: A painless swelling in the lymph nodes in the neck, underarm, or groin, unexplained recurrent fevers, night sweats, unexplained weight loss (not associated with eating disorders), and itchy skin.

Non-Hodgkin's lymphoma is usually signaled by tender, swollen lymph nodes in the groin, neck, or armpit and less frequently, in the elbow, throat, and ears. A person with the disease may also experience fevers, excessive sweating (usually at night), weight loss or gain, fatigue, loss of appetite, or an enlarged spleen. Less often, non-Hodgkin's lymphoma originates somewhere other than the lymph nodes, such as in the skin, a bone, or a lung. In such cases, symptoms may be localized-chest pain, skin masses, coughs, bone pain, or rashes are the norm. But typically, swollen lymph nodes are the only sign of the disease.

It is important to note that most enlarged lymph nodes are attributed to infection, not cancer. Further testing-such as a biopsy-for cancer may be performed only if no signs of infection are present.

Lymphatic tissue includes the lymph nodes and related organs that are part of the body's immune and blood-forming systems. The lymph nodes are small, bean-shaped organs located underneath the skin in the neck, underarm, and groin. Lymph nodes are also found inside the chest, abdomen, and pelvis.

Hodgkin's Disease - Causes

The way in which lymphoma is treated depends on the patient's age, health, and stage of disease. More than one type of treatment is often administered. Options include:

  • Chemotherapy -In chemotherapy, a personalized combination of drugs is either injected or swallowed to fight rapid cancer cell growth. The amount of drugs or doses is determined by the grade of lymphoma-usually one drug is used to treat low-grade lymphoma, and multiple drugs are used for intermediate- or high-grade lymphoma.
  • Radiation -High doses of radiation are administered to shrink cancerous cells and tumors. This type of treatment is usually reserved for low-grade, early-stage lymphoma and is sometimes used in conjunction with chemotherapy.
  • Stem Cell Transplantation -With stem-cell transplantation, healthy stem cells are drawn from the patient's blood or marrow and frozen; after chemotherapy is administered, the healthy stem cells are injected back into the patient's body. Such treatment is typically used to treat patients who have relapsed after successful treatment of intermediate- to high-grade lymphomas.
  • Observation -In cases of slow-progressing lymphoma, doctors sometimes observe the patient and patterns of cancer growth for up to or longer than a year before choosing a treatment option
  • Ibritumomab (Zevalin) - This drug, recently approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is used in conjunction with another approved drug, rituximab (Rituxan), to help the immune system identify and destroy cancer cells. Because of its radioactive format and serious side effects, Zevalin is administered only to patients for whom all other options have failed.

Resource Links for Hodgkin's Disease

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