Lymphoma can be difficult to distinguish from other conditions, such as infections. Medical oncologist Anas Younes explains that doctors may suspect lymphoma when symptoms such as enlarged lymph nodes do not become resolved after treatment with antibiotics. Other general symptoms may include shortness of breath or coughing, night sweats, fever that lasts for a long period of time without an infection, and severe itching.
In diagnosing lymphoma, doctors assess the appearance of lymphocytes under the microscope and use specialized tests to look for the presence of certain proteins, chromosomal abnormalities, and genetic markers associated with the illness.
Having a weakened immune system is the most widely recognized risk factor for developing lymphoma, says Memorial Sloan Kettering pathologist Ahmet Dogan. Lymphoma is more common in people with HIV infection or other chronic viral infections, and in people who are taking immunosuppressant drugs. Researchers are also studying environmental and genetic risk factors for this illness.
Understanding the genetic fingerprint of each cancer cell may help doctors predict an individual patient’s response to treatment and may help in developing novel, targeted therapies for the disease.