Table of contents
What is Follicular Lymphoma?
Follicular lymphoma is a very slow-developing type of cancer that may appear in an individual’s bone marrow, lymph nodes, spleen thymus, and other parts of the lymphatic system. In addition, it can also spread to organs outside the lymphatic system. It occurs when the white blood cells, which are the body’s defense mechanism, begin to develop and grow abnormally and can form tumors anywhere in the body.
Follicular lymphoma is the most commonly diagnosed subtype of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma; it earns its name from its can of worm-like appearance when viewed under a microscope. Follicular lymphoma is more likely to affect males than females, and older people are more likely to suffer from the disease than younger individuals. Many people get diagnosed with follicular lymphoma before they develop any symptoms, and generally, individuals who are healthy and don’t have any symptoms may not need immediate treatment. Healthcare providers usually recommend watchful waiting when the individual’s health and any emerging signs of the disease are actively monitored.
What causes follicular lymphoma?
In most cases, the exact cause of follicular lymphoma is not known. It starts when the body begins to produce a lot of abnormal lymphocytes, a type of white blood cell. Also, in follicular lymphoma, the lymphocytes do not die when they are supposed to, and the body keeps producing new ones. This leads to swelling and overcrowding of the lymph nodes. Follicular lymphoma often originates from the B-cells.
What are the risk factors of follicular lymphoma?
Some factors which may increase the risk of an individual follicular lymphoma include:
- Medication that suppresses the immune system – medication that suppresses the immune system, like those administered to organ transplant patients, may increase the risk of the disease.
- Older age – older aged individuals are more at risk of developing follicular lymphoma than younger people. It is more common among those aged 60 or above.
- Infection with some viruses and bacteria – some viral and bacterial infections appear to increase the risk of developing the disease.
- Some chemicals – exposure to chemicals, like those used on weeds and insects, may increase the risk of developing the disease.
What are the symptoms of follicular lymphoma?
Some general symptoms that may be seen in follicular lymphoma include:
- Painless swelling in the neck, the armpit, or groin that is caused by swollen lymph nodes
- Weight loss of unknown origin
- Constant fatigue
- Sweating and chills
How is follicular lymphoma diagnosed?
Follicular lymphoma may be detected when patients go in for routine diagnostic scans in hospitals. Enlarged lymph nodes may be a pointer for further investigation to be carried out by the health care provider. In addition, a physical examination to check for swollen lymph nodes, as well as swollen liver and spleen, may be carried out. Some of the tests that may be used to confirm the diagnosis of follicular lymphoma include:
- Blood test – this may be done in order to rule out an infection or any other disease condition.
- Biopsy – this is where some of the swollen lymph node tissue samples are taken to the lab to look for signs of follicular cancer. A biopsy of the bone marrow may also be carried out in addition.
- CT scan – this test visualizes the body to help look out for and monitor the disease and also evaluate the treatment plan.
- PT scan – this test is used to observe the cancer cell activity and establish the grade of the cancer.
How is follicular cancer treated?
In the management of follicular lymphoma, a combination of careful observation, as well as other therapies, may be employed to treat the condition. Some of the therapies include:
- Active surveillance – this is used when there are no apparent symptoms of follicular lymphoma. Regular appointments are scheduled where they carry out a physical examination, diagnostic imaging, and laboratory testing in order to detect a change in the situation.
- Radiation therapy – this is where high-energy beams are used to shrink or kill cancer cells. This may be used in the early stages of follicular lymphoma.
- Chemotherapy – this is where medication that kills cancer cells is administered to an individual. This method may be used alone or may be used in combination with other therapies like radiation to treat follicular lymphoma.
- Targeted therapy – this therapy uses medication that targets and kills the cancer cells while sparing normal cells.
- Immunotherapy – this is where the immune system is stimulated in order to attack the abnormal cancer cells. Treatments can fuel the production of cancer-destroying cells or help in the identification and destruction of cancer cells.
- Bone marrow transplant – this treatment may be recommended if there is a remission of follicular lymphoma after chemotherapy.
- Monoclonal antibody therapy – this is where lab-created antibodies are used to identify and destroy cancer cells.
What is the outlook of individuals with follicular cancer?
Follicular lymphoma is a slow-growing condition; hence it is considered to be more of a chronic illness. However, studies have shown that about half the people diagnosed with it have survived for even about 20 years after the diagnosis. Self-care is an essential part of living with cancer. Some ways of self-care include:
- Fatigue is a very common symptom of the disease and a side effect of the treatment. A patient should be very aware of their energy levels and rest when they need to.
- A good exercise habit should be adopted as well as an adequate nutrition plan. Consulting with a nutritionist or a dietician is a good practice.
- Talking with a therapist to deal with the associated anxiety is also very advisable. Having a support system of friends and family can also be crucial in therapy.
Researchers have not been able to identify any ways of preventing the occurrence of follicular lymphoma.