Lymphoma is the third most common type of cancer in children worldwide and affects about ten percent of all children diagnosed with cancer at Hamad Medical Corporation (HMC), according to Dr Naima Al Mulla, Senior Consultant at HMC’s Pediatric Hematology and Oncology section based at Hamad General Hospital (HGH).

Speaking on the occasion of World Lymphoma Awareness Day, which is celebrated globally on 15 September every year to raise awareness of the importance of early detection and treatment of this cancer, the HGH cancer expert said:

While the survival rates for childhood cancers are better than those for adult cancers, early diagnosis and treatment are important to avoid the need for significant therapy to treat the cancer and to reduce the risk of a relapse.’

Lymphoma 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.

Dr Al Mulla said symptoms to watch out for include 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, she said.

About half of all children with lymphoma receiving care at HMC’s Pediatric Hematology and Oncology section have Hodgkin lymphoma, while the other half have non-Hodgkin lymphoma which has many different subtypes. The mainstay of therapy for both types of lymphoma is chemotherapy and in both cases at least 90 percent of patients can be cured when the disease is diagnosed and treated at an early stage.

When treated at an advanced stage, patients with Hodgkin lymphoma have a slightly lessened chance of survival but may need more intensive chemotherapy and in some cases radiotherapy as well. Non-Hodgkin lymphoma, on the other hand, is a more aggressive tumor that quickly develops and spreads to other areas of the body and this can reduce the chance of survival if the cancer is treated at a late stage.

Radiotherapy, which uses high-energy radiation to treat cancer, is not used for non-Hodgkin lymphoma and is used only when necessary for Hodgkin lymphoma (depending on the stage of the disease and the response after chemotherapy cycles) as this type of therapy has certain side effects, including reduced bone growth and an increased risk of secondary cancer in the long term. To avoid unnecessary radiotherapy and in accordance with highly advanced protocols, HMC uses Positron Emission Tomography or PET scanning after chemotherapy to determine whether a patient actually needs radiotherapy as further treatment.

If you are concerned that your child may have cancer, seek the advice of your private or primary healthcare physician, who can determine if your child needs a referral to cancer specialists at HGH’s Pediatrics Department.