World Lymphoma Awareness Day is an initiative by the Lymphoma Coalition which occurs annually on 15th September, bringing together patients, caregivers, and healthcare professionals globally to raise awareness of cancers of the lymphatic system.
The theme of the campaign this year is We Can’t Wait. It aims to highlight the importance of understanding the symptoms of lymphoma and seeking prompt medical attention if a person is experiencing them, despite the current COVID-19 pandemic.1
Lymphoma is the most common type of blood cancer and the fifth most common cancer overall in the UK, and yet most people are unaware of what the disease is and how it manifests. Every 27 minutes someone in the UK is diagnosed with lymphoma, and more than 735,000 people around the world are diagnosed annually.2,3
What is lymphoma?
Lymphoma is a blood cancer that occurs when a type of white blood cell called lymphocytes divide and accumulate in an uncontrolled way. Healthy lymphocytes travel around the body in the lymphatic system as part of the immune system, protecting against infection.4
How does the lymphatic system work in healthy people and those with lymphoma?2
- In healthy people, lymph fluid flows through a network of lymph vessels (similar to the circulatory system of blood vessels)
- The lymph vessels connect to a group of lymph nodes which behave like a filter, trapping harmful cells such as bacteria and viruses, which are then destroyed by lymphocytes
- When a healthy person has an infection, lymph nodes trap bacteria and viruses that they cannot destroy immediately and as a result they swell and become tender to touch
- In lymphoma patients, lymphocytes divide in an abnormal way and do not die as they should; this results in an accumulation of lymphocytes in the lymph nodes, most commonly in the neck, armpits, or groin
- The swollen lymph node in lymphoma is painless, but contains many of these abnormal lymphocytes; the impact is a malfunctioning immune system
What are the symptoms of lymphoma?5
The signs and symptoms of lymphoma are quite generalised and similar to less serious illnesses such as influenza or other viral infections, which means that they can easily be overlooked. However, the symptoms of an acute infection in a normal individual are short-lived and resolve, whereas in lymphoma they persist. The most common presenting symptom of lymphoma is painless swelling in a lymph node. Other common signs are:6
- Unexplained weight loss
- General fatigue
- Persistent itch without cause
- Night sweats
- Recurrent fever
- Loss of appetite
- Breathlessness and cough
- Enlarged tonsils
The cancer diagnosis backlog
COVID-19 has had an unprecedented impact on many aspects of healthcare and this includes cancer diagnoses. Fear of attending GP surgeries and hospitals, not wanting to burden a struggling healthcare system and a shutdown of cancer screening programmes all contribute to delayed diagnoses. At the height of the pandemic in 2020, Macmillan estimated that there were 50,000 people in the UK living with undiagnosed cancer.6,7
As is the case with all types of cancer, early diagnosis of lymphoma is key to its effective treatment and long term survival. Doctors working in secondary care have already reported an increase in people presenting at a much later stage with all types of cancers than pre-pandemic, many of whom have metastatic disease.6,7
And so, We Can’t Wait could not be a more appropriate theme for the lymphoma awareness 2021 campaign. Symptom awareness is key, and so on this Lymphoma Awareness day please join us at Porterhouse Medical Group in shining a light on lymphoma, sharing the infographic in whatever way you can.
1 World Lymphoma Awareness Day. Available at: https://lymphomacoalition.org/world-lymphoma-awareness-day/. Accessed September 2021
2 The Lymphatic System. Available at: https://www.macmillan.org.uk/cancer-information-and-support/worried-about-cancer/the-lymphatic-system. Accessed September 2021.
3 Lymphoma Action: Take part in 27 in 27. Available at: https://lymphoma-action.org.uk/27. Accessed September 2021.
4 About Lymphoma. Available at: https://lymphoma-action.org.uk/index.php/about-lymphoma/what-lymphoma. Accessed September 2021.
5 Signs and Symptoms of Lymphoma. Available at: https://lymphomacoalition.org/signs-symptoms/. Accessed September 2021.
6 The Cancer diagnosis shortfall. Available at: https://www.macmillan.org.uk/healthcare-professionals/news-and-resources/blogs/what-the-cancer-diagnosis-shortfall-means-for-patients-and-practitioners. Accessed September 2021
7 The forgotten impact of covid 19 on cancer care. Available at: https://www.macmillan.org.uk/assets/forgotten-c-impact-of-covid-19-on-cancer-care.pdf. Accessed September 2021.
Author Suzanne Brunt BM | Medical Writer | Porterhouse Medical