The lymphatic system is comprised of lymphatic vessels and small organs called lymph nodes and it is responsible for maintaining fluid balance between the body cells and blood, absorption of fats from the digestive system and it is a critical component of the body’s immune defences. Lymphatic vessels can be found in almost every organ in the body and they are interrelated with lymph nodes which are strategically positioned in the head, neck, chest, armpits, abdomen, groin, genitals and lower limbs. The lymphatic vessels transport a fluid called lymph, formed from fluid that surrounds the body cells, and it carries cellular waste products and immune cells. Lymph flows one-way through the lymphatic system and it drains back into the blood circulation. The lymphatic system is a key player in the immune response; lymph nodes provide immune surveillance and they can trap invading bacteria and viruses, clearing them from lymph as it journeys back to the systemic blood circulation.
What is lymphoma?
Lymphoma is a cancer of immune cells called lymphocytes. There are several different types of lymphocytes, the major types being the B-lymphocyte and the T-lymphocyte. B-lymphocytes make antibodies in response to invading pathogens. There are two classes of T-lymphocytes; T-helper cells and T-cytotoxic cells which act to stimulate the production of antibodies by B-lymphocytes and attack and destroy pathogens, respectively. Natural Killer (NK) cells are another type of lymphocyte, accounting for 10-15% of total lymphocytes in the blood. NK cells attack and destroy abnormal cells such as cancer cells or those infected with viruses.
Lymphoma occurs due to the uncontrolled proliferation of either the B-lymphocytes, T-lymphocytes or NK cells in the lymph nodes, causing enlargement. The cancerous cells can migrate to one or more adjacent lymph nodes and they can also spread to lymphatic tissues in organs including the spleen, bone marrow, tonsils, adenoids, and thymus.