Lowdown on Hodgkin’s Disease

Hodgkin’s Disease is a common form of lymphatic cancer. It usually occurs on young adults ages 15 to 35, and older adults over the age of 50. It is more prevalent in males than females. Caucasians are perceived to be at higher risk than African Americans.

What is Hodgkin’s Disease?
It’s now more popularly known as Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. It’s a cancer of the lymphatic system, a component of the immune system. In this disease, the cells in the lymphatic system called lymph node cells grow and multiply abnormally, affecting the body’s ability to fight infections such as viruses, bacteria and fungi. Eventually, the cancer cells spread to other parts of the body.

What are the causes?
Up to now, no one has determined the exact direct cause of this disease. Certain risk factors have been proven to contribute to the development of Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. These include viruses, weak immune system, age and genes.

An Epstein-Barr Virus (EBV) and human immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) puts you at higher risk of Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. The risk also increases if you have a weakened immune system, which can be an inherited condition or due to certain drugs.

Another factor is age. As mentioned earlier, it is highly prevalent in young adults ages 15 to 35, and older adults over the age of 50. If you have first-degree relatives, particularly brothers and sisters who suffer from this disease, you have an increased chance of acquiring Hodgkin’s Lymphoma in the future. These risk factors don’t automatically indicate that you will have this disease later in life. Some people who have one or more risk factors don’t develop this disease at all.

What are the symptoms?
The main symptom of this form of lymphatic cancer is painless swelling of the lymph nodes in the neck, armpits and groin. Other symptoms include persistent fatigue, fever, chills, night sweats, rapid weight loss, coughing, trouble breathing, chest pain, loss of appetite, itchy skin, and increased sensitivity to alcohol such as feeling intense pain in the lymph nodes after alcohol consumption.

Treating this disease depends primarily on the stage including the number and regions of lymph nodes affected. The first option for treatment is chemotherapy, which is ideal when the disease has already progressed and has affected several lymph nodes or organs. This treatment makes use of drugs to kill the tumor cells.

Chemotherapy regimens include ABVD (doxorubicin or Adriamycin, bleomycin, vinblastine and dacarbazine), BEACOPP (bleomycin, etoposide, doxorubicin, cyclophosphamide, vincristine, procarbazine and prednisone), Stanford V (doxorubicin, vinblastine, mechlorethamine, etoposide, vincristine, bleomycin and prednisone), COPP/ABVD (cyclophosphamide, vincristine, procarbazine, prednisone, doxorubicin, bleomycin, vinblastine and dacarbazine), and MOPP (mechlorethamine, vincristine, procarbazine and prednisone).

It’s important to remember however that chemotherapy has long-term side effects including damage of the heart, lungs and liver, fertility problems, and secondary cancers like leukemia.

Other methods of treatment are radiation and bone marrow transplant. Radiation is preferred if the disease is restricted to a certain area. In this treatment, high-energy X-rays are used to combat the cancer cells. This therapy however may increase the risk of stroke, infertility and thyroid problems.

If the lymphoma comes back after the treatment is finished, a bone marrow transplant would be in order. The bone marrow is removed to be treated. It is to be reinstalled after chemotherapy is used to kill all the cancer cells in the other parts of the body.

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