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B-cell lymphoma is a type of cancer that originates in white blood cells and lymphatic tissue. There are many different types of the disorder, classified by the kinds of cells they affect and the manners in which they spread. Most b-cell lymphomas have the potential to spread rapidly to the heart, lungs, and other vital organ systems, so early diagnosis and treatment are essential. Aggressive chemotherapy and radiation treatments can maximize the chances of remission and survival.
B cells are specialized types of new white blood cells that produce the antibodies needed to fight off disease and infection. They are produced by bone marrow and secreted into the lymphatic system, where they mature and circulate throughout the bloodstream. B-cell lymphoma occurs when the cells start growing and reproducing abnormally at some point in their development. The exact causes of lymphoma are not well understood, but there are clear links between the cancer and genetic mutations, autoimmune disorders, and connective tissue disorders. In addition, environmental factors such as exposure to pesticides, industrial chemicals, and hospital radiation increase the likelihood of developing b-cell lymphoma.
Since most types of b-cell lymphoma develop very quickly, symptoms tend to emerge within a few weeks or months. In many cases, the first sign is swelling in one or more lymph nodes in the neck, groin, or armpits. A person may also have stomach cramps, fatigue, and flu-like symptoms of fever, night sweats, and joint pain. Lymphomas that affect the lungs or heart can cause breathing difficulties and severe chest pains. It is important to schedule an appointment with a doctor as soon as symptoms emerge to receive an accurate diagnosis.
Blood testing is the most valuable tool in diagnosing b-cell lymphoma. A pathologist screens a blood sample to count white blood cells, assess kidney and liver functioning, and check for other signs of immune system deficiencies. X-rays and computerized tomography scans are used to evaluate tumors in lymph nodes and look for the presence of cancer in other body parts. In addition, a tissue sample may be taken from a swollen lymph node for further lab testing.
After confirming b-cell lymphoma and identifying the particular type, treatment decisions can be made. Surgery is rarely an option since the cancer spreads so quickly and tends to recur even if a lymph node is removed. Most patients need to undergo chemotherapy, radiation treatment, or both for several months to slow the spread of cancer and destroy existing tumors. Medications to combat symptoms and raise antibody counts are given throughout treatment. Each patient's prognosis is different, but as much as 30 percent of people with b-cell lymphoma are cured with aggressive, early treatment.