Hodgkin's Disease Treatments: Is There A Cure?

Over 80% of patients with Hodgkin's Disease are cured with treatments like radiation, chemotherapy or, in some cases, a bone marrow transplant. Learn more

Hodgkin's Disease, also known as Hodgkin's Lymphoma, is a form of cancer which begins in the lymphatic tissue of the body. It involves the lymph nodes, lymphocytes, spleen and other organs which help to form blood and provide immunity from germs. Since lymphatic tissue is present in many areas of the body, this disease may start in any body part. Hodgkin's Disease is generally found within two distinct age groups--ages 15 to 40 and the over 55 age group.

SYMPTOMS

This disease may be present without any symptoms. When symptoms are present there may be painless, swollen lymph nodes which are most commonly found in the neck, armpit or groin. However, this swelling is not always indicative of Hodgkin's Disease. Enlarged lymph nodes are often caused by other illness or infection. If lymph glands are swollen to over one inch in diameter, they should be examined by a physician. Other symptoms can include intense itching with no apparent cause, night sweats, fever, jaundice, weight loss, anemia, gastrointestinal bleeding and reduced immunity to infection.

Swelling of the lymph nodes in the chest area can cause pressure on the windpipe, resulting in coughing and shortness of breath. Again, most of the symptoms of Hodgkin's Disease can be attributed to other sources. A medical consultation can determine if symptoms are cancer-related.



TREATMENT

Over 80% of patients with Hodgkin's Disease are cured with radiation, chemotherapy or, in some cases, a bone marrow transplant. Results vary greatly according to the general health of the patient and the stage to which the disease had progressed when treatment was started.

There is no early screening procedure for Hodgkin's Disease but when there is sufficient evidence for a physician to suspect Hodgkin's Disease, there will first be a thorough physical examination and x-rays of the abdomen and chest. Advanced scanning and imaging procedures such as the CT scan and MRI are used to ascertain the location, size and shape of suspected tumors. A biopsy is the only certain method to confirm Hodgkin's Disease and this procedure will be performed when the existence of tumors is verified. Tissue samples are removed for laboratory analysis. The physician may also perform a laparotomy to reveal any involvement of the cancer with other organs in the abdomen. In most cases, the spleen is removed at this point.

The most common methods of cancer therapy used for this disease are radiation therapy and chemotherapy. In chemotherapy, the patient is given a course of cancer-destroying drugs, either orally or intravenously. There are often side-effects of nausea, vomiting, hair loss, fatigue and loss of appetite. These generally subside after treatment is completed.

Radiation therapy, where a beam of strong radiation is aimed at the affected area to kill cancer cells, can result in damage to healthy tissue surrounding the targeted area and can have long-term side effects. Among young women under 30, radiation treatments to the chest area may result in breast cancer several years later. Both sexes experience a greater risk of lung and thyroid cancer and may have problems with immune system function. As a result, all infections must be promptly treated. Chest radiation may also result in an increased risk of heart attack. During treatment, ovulation and menstruation often cease and men can suffer from impotence and low sperm count, usually temporarily.

Bone marrow transplantation is another option in treating Hodgkin's Disease. In this procedure, a patient's own bone marrow is extracted and stored. A high dose of chemotherapy is then administered, after which the stored bone marrow is then replaced intravenously to manufacture new blood cells. Another treatment procedure, Peripheral Blood Stem Cell Transplant, removes the stem cells (cells from which blood cells develop) from the patient's blood by machine, small amounts at a time, and stores the stem cells. The blood is then returned to the body. After cancer treatment is completed, the stem cells are replaced.

When treating children for Hodgkin's Disease, older children are generally given the same treatment options as adults. In younger children, however, chemotherapy is often the option used so that the growth process will not be affected.

Although no single risk factor for Hodgkin's Disease has been isolated, it has been found that people who have AIDS or have had an organ transplant have a significantly higher risk for this disease. People who have had mononucleosis are also in this higher risk group.

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