Hodgkin's disease is one of a group of cancers called lymphomas. Lymphoma is a general term for cancers that develop in the lymphatic system. Other cancers of the lymphatic system are called non-Hodgkin's lymphomas. The lymphatic system is part of the body's immune system which helps fight disease and infection. The lymphatic system includes a network of thin lymphatic vessels that branch, like blood vessels, into tissues throughout the body. Lymphatic vessels carry lymph, a colorless, watery fluid that contains infection-fighting cells called lymphocytes. Also included in the network of vessels are small organs called lymph nodes. Lymph nodes are found in the underarms, groin, neck, chest and abdomen. Other parts of the lymphatic system are the spleen, thymus, tonsils and bone marrow. Lymphatic tissue is also found in other parts of the body, including the stomach, intestines and skin.
Because lymphatic tissue is present in many parts of the body, Hodgkin's disease can start almost anywhere. Hodgkin's disease may occur in a single lymph node, a group of lymph nodes, or sometimes, or sometimes in other parts of the lymphatic system such as the bone marrow and spleen. This type of cancer tends to spread in a fairly orderly way from one group of lymph nodes to the next group.
Possible Causes: At this time, the cause or causes of Hodgkin's disease are not precisely known. By studying patterns of cancer in the population, researchers have found certain risk factors that are more common in people who get Hodgkin's disease than in those who do not. However, most people with the risk factors may not get Hodgkin's disease, while many who do get Hodgkin's disease have none of the known risk factors.
The following are some of the risk factors associated with the disease:
- Age/Sex. Hodgkin's disease occurs most often in people between 15 and 34 and in people over the age of 55. It is more common in men than in women.
- Family History. Brothers and sisters of those with Hodgkin's disease have a higher-than-average chance of developing the disease.
- Viruses. Epstein-Barr virus is an infectious agent that may be associated with an increased chance of getting Hodgkin's disease.
Symptoms: Symptoms of Hodgkin's disease may include the following:
- A painless swelling in the lymph nodes in the neck, underarm, or groin
- Unexplained recurrent fevers
- Night sweats
- Unexplained weight loss
- Itchy skin
- When symptoms like these occur, they are not sure signs of Hodgkin's disease, but may in most cases be caused by other, less serious conditions, such as the flu. When symptoms like these persist, however, it may be necessary to see a doctor. Only a doctor can make a diagnosis of Hodgkin's disease.
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