Low White Blood Cell Count & Lymphoma Symptoms

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Lymphoma is a cancer affecting the white blood cells (lymphocytes) of the body's immune system. The cells begin to grow abnormally and much faster than they should. It is a moderately rare form of cancer, but prognoses are often fairly good.

Causes

The ultimate underlying causes of lymphoma, as with most cancers, are not fully understood. There may be genetic as well as environmental factors, and things that trigger the disease in some people may have no effect on others. At some point, however, a lymphocyte (usually a B-cell) will form that does not die when it should, but instead continues to divide and multiply until the abnormal, cancerous cells outnumber the healthy cells. This manifests the first and primary symptom of lymphoma, swollen lymph nodes.

Symptoms

The lymph nodes are locations within the lymphatic system that serve to collect and process lymphocytes. As the cancerous cells multiply in one of these nodes, they cause it to swell. This is typically not accompanied by pain, and can usually be detected by touch before the appearance of any other symptoms. Low white blood cell count and lymphoma symptoms often go hand in hand.

Such secondary symptoms can include the following:

  • Fever
  • Night sweats
  • Itching
  • Weight loss
  • Loss of appetite
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Abdominal pain or constipation
  • Shortness of breath

Diagnosis

Because swollen lymph nodes can be caused by other things, including infection or even stress, it may be necessary for a doctor to run a series of blood tests, including determining a white blood cell count. It may also be necessary to take a CT scan to isolate the affected areas, or to biopsy the node to determine the type of lymphoma present. Treatment will be based on the results of these tests.

Treatment

The most common treatment for lymphoma is chemotherapy, but this might differ based on the type of lymphoma and the speed at which it is spreading. Low-grade or slow-growing cancers can typically be addressed with a single chemotherapy drug, but high- or intermediate-grade, fast-growing varieties may necessitate a combination of agents.

Chemotherapy carries its own side effects, including lowered amounts of bone marrow, where blood cells are usually created. Because of this, it may be beneficial to remove some marrow stem cells before chemotherapy begins and re-implant them afterward to compensate for the damage done by chemotherapy.

Another option is radiation therapy, which can be effective for localized or widespread cancerous involvement, but again carries its own risks. Chief among these is the suppression of the immune system, including low white blood cell count. This makes a person more susceptible to infection and can increase the risk of life-threatening hemorrhaging.

Conclusion

Oncologists will be able to help people choose a course of treatment and will help answer any questions the patient might have. Hearing that one has lymphoma, or any cancer, can be a terrifying experience, but treatments are becoming more effective every day and many cancer patients can expect to live long and healthy lives after diagnosis.

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