Lymphoma in kids – Symptoms and treatment approach

Lymphoma in kids starts in the lymphatic organs or vessels, which weakens the performance of our immune system.  This network is an essential part of our body as it helps filter out debris from the bloodstream and protect the body against detrimental bacteria and viruses.  Hence, a patient suffering from Lymphoma will easily get common sickness and even difficult-to-treat disease as the protection from any harmful external factor fails to reach its potential. 

How can lymphoma affect our body? 

Normally, there are two types of Lymphoma in children, including: 

  • Hodgkin Lymphoma: with the presence of Reed-Sternberg cells and the median age for diagnosis is around 39
  • Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma: without the presence of Reed-Sternberg cells and the average age for diagnosis is 55

lymphoma in kids

There are many parts in the lymphatic system, including the spleen in the belly, thymus in the chest, tonsils, adenoids in the neck, and lymph nodes, also known as the glands in the underarms, neck, stomach, and groin. Once the cells in the lymphatic system become abnormal, they often grow and expand quickly. In some cases, those abnormal cells can divide in half to increase their appearance all over the body. 

Ultimately, they prevent healthy ones near them from working normally and make it difficult for the immune system to work properly. In addition, they compete and consume nutrients and energy, causing the healthy cells to starve.

Is lymphoma hereditary?

Scientists have not found a totally clear pattern and evidence for lymphoma running in families. For Hodgkin lymphoma, children having a sibling by blood with the disease can increase the risk of having it. The risk of Hodgkin’s lymphoma in kids is also high for an identical twin. 

For non-Hodgkin lymphoma, there may be a small increase in risk if a parent, brother, or sister has the disease. Researchers are still studying this question. However, most people with non-Hodgkin lymphoma do not have a family history of it.

How common is lymphoma in kids?

Childhood lymphoma is usually rare. Only around 8% of cancers in children are lymphoma.  Specifically, 5% of teens having cancer will have non-Hodgkin lymphoma, while the rest will have Hodgkin type.

Non-Hodgkin lymphomas are more common in children under the age of 14. But once children reach 19, the risk of developing lymphoma of the two types becomes more equal. The first type of Lymphoma is usually diagnosed in early adulthood. It is uncommon for toddlers to have lymphoma.

Boys are two to three times more likely to develop non-Hodgkin lymphoma than girls.  Also, the cancer is more common in Caucasians than in African-Americans.

Read more: A complete guide on how to prepare for a mammogram

Lymphoma symptoms in kids

Not all children or adolescents with lymphoma have obvious symptoms. Some common childhood lymphoma symptoms include:

  • Lumps in the stomach, neck, underarm areas, testicles, or groin 
  • Night sweats
  • Fever
  • Feeling tired
  • Itchy skin
  • Weight loss (suddenly and without a good reason)
  • Chest pain
  • Feeling out of breath
  • Poor appetite
  • Cough
  • Swollen belly

Diagnosis for lymphoma in kids

Lymphoma in kids

If your child has several symptoms of lymphoma as above, take him/her to the medical staff. The doctor will do a full physical exam, including a biopsy to rule out the exact reason. During a biopsy, some of the abnormal lymphoma tissues are taken out to investigate in the lab under a microscope. Additionally, the healthcare provider will put a hollow needle into the abnormal lymph node to take a bit of tissue.

During this test, the staff will employ general anesthesia to put children into sleep. Sometimes, he will only use numbing medicine on the skin to make them feel calm and sleepy.

Treatment approach for lymphoma in children

Different types of treatment may opt for children with lymphoma:

  • Chemotherapy: this method uses powerful medicines to kill cancer cells or stop them from growing. It is given to children having both types of lymphoma. It is injected into the bloodstream to travel through the body or given by mouth or the combination of the two approaches.
  • Radiation therapy. The medical staff uses high-energy X-rays or other types of radiation to kill cancer cells or stop them from growing. Only children who have Hodgkin type that has not spread throughout the body take this method.
  • Targeted therapy. This method uses medicines or other specific treatments to attack the target cancer cells without harming the healthy ones. 

Lymphoma in child survival rate

Different forms of lymphoma in kids have different survival rates.

  • Hodgkin lymphoma: With early diagnosis and treatment, the survival rate among children is between 90% and 95% by five years after diagnosis. For children whose disease has spread through the body by the time they are diagnosed, the survival rate is about 90% after five years.
  • Non-Hodgkin lymphoma. After treatment, about 80% of children are disease-free five years after diagnosis. If the cancer is caught early and has not spread through the body, about 90% of children who are treated are disease-free five years after diagnosis.

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