If someone has been experiencing sudden weight loss along with the swelling of lymph nodes located around the body mainly in the neck, armpit, abdominal area or groin, it is time to consult a physician; this could be a symptom of lymphoma, one of the fastest growing blood cancers in various parts of Pakistan.
Lymphoma is a form of cancer which develops in the immune system’s cells that resist infections. These cells, known as lymphocytes, are present in the bone marrow, lymph nodes, spleen, thymus and other organs and in addition to various organs throughout the body, lymphoma can affect all of those places. Lymphomas have been generally categorised either into Hodgkin lymphoma or non-Hodgkin lymphoma, with over 80 different sub-types.
These facts were highlighted by Dr Munira Borhany, consultant clinical haematologist and transplant physician and medical director at the National Institute of Blood Diseases & Bone Marrow Transplantation (NIBD), at a two-day public awareness seminar on World Lymphoma Awareness Day held on Thursday and Friday. “This disease causes symptoms such as fever, shortness of breath, unexplained weight loss, itchy skin and persistent fatigue,” she said.
Talking about the prevention of lymphomas, she said, “The best way to prevent lymphomas is to maintain a healthy weight, stay physically active and adopt a healthy eating routine that includes lots of fruits, vegetables and whole grains while limiting or avoiding red and processed meats, sugary drinks and highly processed foods.”
Dr Munira Borhany further said: “Depending on the type and severity of the disease, treatment options for lymphoma may include chemotherapy, immunotherapy drugs, radiation therapy, bone marrow transplantation or a combination of these.
“Lymphomas can be broadly separated in two main types: low-grade or indolent or chronic, where the cancer cells grow and spread slowly; and high-grade or aggressive or acute lymphoma, where the cells grow and spread quickly but that have better cure rates as chemotherapy can effectively kill the cancer cells.
“An advanced low-grade lymphoma is not curable, but not life-threatening, if the treatment is done properly, and on time, life is as good as any normal healthy person.”
There has been a lot of research in the lymphoma space, leading to a number of new treatments, which is good news. Often, however, these new therapies are very costly. This is a concern not only for individuals but also for society at large in terms of working towards greater equity in lymphoma care” she elaborated.
Dr Azhar Rashid, director clinical and radiation oncology at the NCCI and secretary of the Faculty of Radiation Oncology at the College of Physicians and Surgeons Pakistan (CPSP), gave a radiation perspective for lymphomas. “Radiation therapy is the integral part of the management in both Hodgkin’s and non-Hodgkin’s lymphomas. Most recently, the advent of modern radiotherapy modalities, targeted and precision radiation delivery and rapid techniques like VMAT has revolutionised the result of radiation therapy. Current recommendations on reduced treatment fields, reduced radiation doses after chemotherapy has created the safe space for use of radiation therapy in this disease, full fledge doses for recurrence of disease also carries valuable outcome,” he said.
“We can’t wait – there is an urgent need to improve the ways lymphomas are diagnosed, treated and to track its subtypes. When we track subtypes, we will understand the actual disease prevalence and outcomes and improve patient care and research,” Dr Azhar Rashid concluded and thanked to participants.