Lymphoma is a cancer of the lymphatic system, which is a part of the immune system. The lymphatic system is made up of the lymph vessels, lymph nodes, the tonsils, adenoids, spleen, and the thymus. The most common type of lymphoma is Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Treatment for this type of lymphoma will be determined based on which stage the disease has progressed to by the time it is diagnosed.
In order to determine the stage that the disease is currently in, certain test will be performed. These include:
- Blood tests
- A physical exam
- Biopsies of the enlarged lymph nodes or other concerning areas
- Bone marrow aspiration and biopsy
- Imaging tests, such as a CT scan
- Lumbar puncture, also referred to as a spinal tap procedure
Once these tests are complete, a stage will be assigned to your disease in order for the doctors to determine how best to approach your treatment plan.
Stage one of Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma can mean one of two things:
- The cancer is only found in one area of one organ outside of the lymph system.
- The lymphoma is only found in one lymph node area or lymphoid organ.
Stage two of Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma means the disease has progressed to include one of two things:
- The cancer has spread to two or more groups of lymph nodes that are on the same side of the diaphragm. An example would be the lymph nodes in the neck and underarm, but if it was in the lymph nodes of the underarm and groin, this would not be stage II.
- The lymphoma has spread from one group of lymph nodes into a nearby organ, or into a group of lymph nodes on the same side of the diaphragm.
Once the disease has reached this stage, one of two things has happened:
- The cancer has spread to lymph node areas on opposite sides of the diaphragm.
- The lymphoma has also extended to organs next to the lymph nodes, into the spleen, or both.
In order for Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma to be considered stage four, one of two things must have happened:
- The cancer has spread to organs that are not adjacent to affected lymph nodes.
- The lymphoma is present in the bone marrow, spinal cord, brain, or in the lining of the lungs.
Each stage of Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma may also be assigned the letter A or the letter B. The letter B will be added if you are experiencing any of these symptoms:
- Unexplained fever of at least 101.5 degrees Fahrenheit
- Night sweats
- Loss of more than 10 percent of your body weight over the course of six months without dieting
The letter A will be added to the end of the stage number if none of these additional symptoms are present. These symptoms would indicate that the disease is more advanced than the letter A alternative. For stages that include B-level symptoms, more intensive treatment is usually needed.