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Biology, chemistry

Learning about lymphoma in kids

This is the final week of my fundraiser for kids’ cancers through the Great Cycle Challenge Canada. Lymphoma is the third most common cancer among children although it is rare in very young children and becomes more common as children age (Lymphoma Action, n.d.).

Lymphoma is a type of cancer white cells known as lymphocytes. These cells help to protect the body normally through specific responses based on the particular cells or antibodies present. There are two categories of lymphoma: Hodgkin lymphoma and non-Hodgkin lymphoma. The biggest distinguishing factor between these two groups is the presence or absence of a particular type of abnormal cell – a Reed-Sternberg cell. Hodgkin lymphoma has Reed-Sternberg cells, cells that are abnormally large and have multiple nuclei; whereas non-Hodgkin lymphoma does not.

Most lymphomas in children are high grade, which means the grow rapidly. The good news though is that they are also likely to go into remission. And children generally have better outcomes and cure rates compared to adults.

It seems that this is a common refrain for cancer, but the symptoms depend on where the cancer is growing. Swollen lymph nodes is relatively common but it isn’t always detectable because some lymph nodes are located deeper in the body. The lumps are also typically painless. Other symptoms vary based on which lymph nodes are swollen.

Chemotherapy is the most common treatment after diagnosis, with radiation being relatively common, but surgery is not. Another type of therapy is antibody therapy. Antibodies are natural products made by your body that stick to specific cells and tell other cells in your body to destroy them. In this type of therapy, antibodies are made in a lab and used to kill lymphoma cells. It is sometimes done in conjunction with chemotherapy.

What I’m struck by is that every “one” of the cancers I’ve looked at are incredibly variable. Cancer isn’t one thing, it is so many. This makes it very difficult to study and develop treatments and cures because every type is potentially different and requires different treatments and responses. There are common elements but not the same. This is why fundraisers like the Great Cycle Challenge Canada are important, because, in our current model, research requires funds.

About Tai Munro

I am passionate about making science, sustainability, and sport accessible through engaging information and activities.

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