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Casting Light on Lymphoma: Understanding a Stealthy Disease

Diagram showing human lymphatic system

12 September 2023CANSA marks World Lymphoma Day on 15 September, raising awareness of lymphoma, a cancer impacting thousands of lives.  This annual event highlights the importance of early detection, advancements in treatment, and the determined spirit of individuals living with lymphoma head-on.

Lymphoma is a type of cancer originating in the lymphatic system, a crucial part of the immune system. The lymphatic system, which is a network of delicate tubes throughout the body, drains fluid (called lymph) that has leaked from the blood vessels into the tissues and empties it back into the bloodstream via the lymph nodes. The lymph nodes and other lymphatic structures like the spleen and thymus hold special white blood cells called lymphocytes that can start to multiply uncontrollably, forming tumours.

There are two main types, namely Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, characterised by Reed-Sternberg cells, and Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma (NHL) which has various subtypes. NHL is among the most reported cancers, with 2,453 new cases registered in 2019 and featuring in the top five among men and women in South Africa. However, underreporting may result in higher actual numbers.

Symptoms of lymphoma vary and include swollen lymph nodes, fatigue, night sweats, and unexplained weight loss. Diagnosis involves blood work, biopsies, and imaging scans. Treatment depends on the type and stage, encompassing chemotherapy, radiation therapy, immunotherapy, and stem cell transplants to restore immune balance.

In recent years, an alarming correlation has emerged between lymphoma and HIV/AIDS, necessitating heightened awareness and support. Those living with HIV/AIDS face a significantly elevated risk of lymphoma due to compromised immune systems. This complex relationship has prompted intensive research efforts to understand lymphoma’s mechanisms and enhance treatment.

Chantel Memziwe, a cancer survivor, shares a remarkable tale of courage and resilience, when getting Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma (NHL).

Diagnosed twice with this cancer, first in 2017 with stage 4 NHL, Chantel’s journey symbolises unwavering determination. She embarked on a marathon of strength, both mentally and physically, drawing from her background as a dedicated runner. She beautifully articulates her transformation, saying, “I didn’t know how strong I was until being strong was the only choice.”

Chantel found solace in her family’s unwavering support, notably her older sister, a 100% match for a life-saving bone marrow transplant. Chantel’s story underscores the immense strength residing within individuals facing cancer and the profound impact on their loved ones. Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, Chantel refused to succumb to adversity, running laps around her house and yard as a testament to her indomitable spirit. She wisely states, “A cancer diagnosis is not a death sentence. With a positive mindset, you can overcome anything.”

Lorraine Govender, CANSA’s National Manager: Health Promotion, says, “It’s important to educate about lymphoma by collaborating with the World Lymphoma Coalition so that we can share international best practices.  We also partner with Blood SA, giving us the opportunity to work with local researchers, besides CANSA researchers, to access current up to date information.”

CANSA provides vital support, resources, and a community for those in need. Early detection is vital in this journey, with regular check-ups crucial to identifying disruptions before they escalate. Lymphoma presents challenges, but ongoing research and medical advancements offer hope.

Contact CANSA for guidance and assistance via the Help Desk on 0800 22 66 22, info@cansa.org.za or go to www. cansa.org.za.

(For more information, please contact Lucy Balona, Head: Marketing and Communication at CANSA at email lbalona@cansa.org.za – call 011 616 7662 or mobile 082 459 5230.)

CANSA offers a unique integrated service to the public and to all people affected by cancer. CANSA is a leading role-player in cancer research and the scientific findings and knowledge gained from our research are used to realign our health programmes, as well as strengthen our watchdog role to the greater benefit of the public. Our health programmes comprise health and education campaigns; CANSA Care Centres that offer a wide range of care and support services to those affected by cancer; stoma and other clinical support; medical equipment hire, as well as a toll-free line to offer information and support. We offer a Tele Counselling service in seven languages free of charge. We also supply patient care and support in the form of 8 CANSA Care Homes in the main metropolitan areas for out-of-town cancer patients and CANSA-TLC lodging for parents and guardians of children undergoing cancer treatment.

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