There are different symptoms for leukaemias and lymphomas Symptoms of leukaemias include: Anaemia – patient unusually pale, weak and tired frequent infections, fevers, chills, or flu-like symptoms, easy bruising or bleeding Night sweats Bone or joint pain Weight loss swollen lymph nodes, tender to the touch Leukaemia cells can also affect the testicles, causing swelling, or affect the spinal column and cause headaches, seizures and vomiting.
The different types of leukaemia develop in different ways. Acute leukaemias progress rapidly, whereas in chronic leukaemia, symptoms take longer to develop and the decline is far less swift. Some of the symptoms of lymphomas can be very similar to those of leukaemia.
The main difference is a painless rather than tender swelling of the lymph nodes, particularly in the neck, under the arms or around the groin. Hodgkin’s and non-Hodgkin’s patients also often suffer night sweats, unexplained fevers, fatigue and weight loss. There can also be itchy skin or red patches. The first thing a doctor will do to investigate suspicions of leukaemia or lymphoma is carry out a physical examination. The lymph nodes in the neck, under the arms and in the groin will be “palpated”, or felt. It can be slightly uncomfortable, but not painful. A doctor can also feel for unusual swellings in the liver, which can happen if lymphoma spreads to that organ. Blood tests, known as “full blood counts” will also give a strong clue as to both the presence of disease – and what type it is. The numbers of various types of cell, mature and immature, are physically counted to make sure there are the right number. Another key test is the x-ray or CT scan, which can look for swellings in the lymph nodes, liver, lungs and spleen. In the case of leukaemia, this may take the form of taking a sample of bone marrow, normally from the hip with a needle. Sometimes a sample of bone is taken for analysis. If this confirms the presence of leukaemia cells, a lumbar puncture, which involves inserting a needle through the back into the lower spine takes more fluid for analysis.
This is usually a relatively painless procedure. For lymphoma, a biopsy of lymph nodes, normally from the neck and underarm area is taken to check for disease. All this information will help doctors work out how aggressive the cancer is, and how far it has already spread. The causes of lymphoma and leukaemia have not yet been established. However, in Hodgkin’s lymphoma, there appears to be a connection with a virus called the Epstein-Barr virus. This is the virus which causes glandular fever, and Hodgkin’s is often found in people in their 20s. However, the incidence of glandular fever is high among this age group – and the number of Hodgkin’s cases is very low.