Posted on September 20, 2014

Experts at Hamad Medical Corporation (HMC) have highlighted the importance of early detection and treatment of lymphoma in children on the occasion of World Lymphoma Awareness Day, which is celebrated globally every year to raise awareness about the disease.

“Lymphoma is the third most common type of cancer in children, affecting approximately 15 million children worldwide. While the survival rates for childhood cancers are better than those for adult cancers, early diagnosis and treatment is important to avoid the need for significant therapy to treat the cancer, and to reduce the risk of the cancer coming back,” said Dr. Abdullah Al Nasser, Senior Consultant and Head of the Pediatric Hematology and Oncology Section at Hamad General Hospital (HGH).

Lymphoma is a cancer that develops in certain cells of the immune system known as lymphocytes. The cancer may start from the bone marrow, lymph nodes, spleen, tonsils, thymus or other lymphatic tissues as well as the lymph vessels that connect them. There are two main categories of lymphoma: Hodgkin lymphoma and non-Hodgkin lymphoma. The type of abnormal cells identified in a biopsy sample determines what type of lymphoma is present in a patient.

“About ten percent of all childhood cancers diagnosed in HGH’s Pediatric Hematology and Oncology unit involve lymphoma, with the number of cases evenly distributed between the two main types of lymphoma,” said Dr. Mohamed Kesudeen, Fellow at Pediatric Hematology and Oncology at HGH. Dr. Kesudeen advises parents to seek professional medical advice when they notice symptoms in their children such as unexplained swelling on the neck, underarm or groin; weight loss, fever, night sweats, weakness, chest pain or trouble breathing, and abdominal swelling. At an advanced stage, lymphoma may present with high fever and weight loss.

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“The mainstay of therapy for both types of lymphoma is chemotherapy, and 90 to 95 percent of patients are expected to be cured when Hodgkin lymphoma is diagnosed and treated at an early stage,” said Dr. Kesudeen. “When the Hodgkin lymphoma is diagnosed at an advanced stage, the cure rate is at 80-85 percent. However, the patient may need significant chemotherapy and probably radiotherapy as well.” Non-Hodgkin lymphoma, on the other hand, has a cure rate of 90-100 percent when the disease is diagnosed at an early stage, which is higher than the 70-90 percent when the disease is diagnosed at an advanced stage, according to Dr. Kesudeen. “Non-Hodgkin lymphoma is a more aggressive tumor that quickly develops and spreads to other areas of the body,” he said.

“In accordance with highly advanced protocols, we now use Positron Emission Tomography or PET scanning to determine, after chemotherapy, whether a patient has remaining cancer and needs radiotherapy as further treatment for Hodgkin lymphoma. This is to avoid unnecessary radiotherapy, as the radiation used in this treatment can cause side effects such as reduced bone growth, and can increase the risk of secondary cancer in the long term,” Dr. Kesudeen explained, adding that radiotherapy is not used in non-Hodgkin lymphoma.

Parents who notice any cancer-related signs and symptoms in their children should seek urgent medical advice or get a referral to see the cancer specialists at HGH’s Pediatrics Department.