Lymphoma is a type of cancer, an overgrowth of cells in the organisms. As it happens in other types of cancer, abnormal cells become capable of dividing rapidly and create an abnormal accumulation of aberrant and malfunctioning cells that keep dividing and changing in the process. As they do, they would keep losing their normal restraints, become more aggressive, and start invading nearby and even distant tissues. However, lymphoma is a bit different from other types of cancer because it is not located in a single organ but rather in the lymphatic system as a whole.
Different from a single organ, the lymphatic system is a group of cells that run through the blood and lymph vessels and continuously circulates the body. There are various types of cells in the lymphatic system, and lymphoma affects the lymphocytes.
There are two main types of lymphomas, Hodgkin lymphoma and non-Hodgkin lymphoma. Moreover, there are plenty of subtypes in each category, and each one of them would have differences from each other. However, most types of lymphoma share almost the same basic symptoms. These are the most prevalent:
Enlarged lymph nodes
Lymph nodes are one of the most important parts of the immune system. They are located throughout the lymphatic vessels scattered all over the body, and they typically swell whenever there’s an active infection nearby. The reason why they swell is that they are sent an alert sign along with a sample of the invader molecule or bacteria, and they start replicating immune cells as if creating an army against the pathogen.
However, in lymphoma, the reason why lymph nodes become enlarged is not because the organism is preparing itself to attack cancer. It is rather due to an excess of lymphocytes constantly replicating and filling the lymph nodes. That is why they are not only located in one body part but dispersed throughout the body.
Enlarged lymph nodes are common in various diseases, and there’s even a viral infection called mononucleosis which features swollen lymph nodes all over the body. However, lymph nodes due to lymphoma are very hard; they can be moved because they are not strongly fixed to the nearby tissue, and they are not tender. In many cases, patients report their lymph nodes are continually shrinking and growing back with no apparent reason, but they are rarely painful.
These lymph nodes are usually located in the armpit, groin, and neck, but even if you have only one of them, having a lymph node larger than 2 cm should be evaluated and monitored by your physician. Lymph nodes are the most essential part of the diagnosis in all types of lymphoma, but sometimes they are not visible to the naked eye, and you would need imaging studies to suspect this disease and start ruling out other possibilities.