Lymphoma is a cancer of a part of the immune system called the lymphatic system. There are many types of lymphoma. One is called Hodgkin disease, and the rest are called non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL). Non-Hodgkin lymphoma begins when a type of white blood cell, called a T or B cell, becomes abnormal. When the cells grow and reproduce rapidly, making more abnormal cells, cancer is likely to form. These cells can spread to any other part of the body. With non-Hodgkin lymphoma, doctors often have a hard time diagnosing it and determining why someone gets non-Hodgkin lymphoma.

Non-Hodgkin lymphoma can cause many symptoms, such as the following:

  • Painless swelling of the lymph nodes in the neck, armpits, or groin
  • Fever
  • Soaking night sweats
  • Weight loss
  • Coughing
  • Trouble breathing or chest pain
  • Weakness and tiredness that won’t go away
  • Pain, swelling, or a feeling of fullness in the abdomen

Non-Hodgkin lymphoma is the most common cancer of the lymphatic system, a part of the immune system. Individual diagnoses of NHL have nearly doubled since the early 1970s. Non-Hodgkin lymphoma is divided into four stages based on how far the cancerous cells have spread.

  • Stage 1 (early disease): In this stage, the cancerous cells are found only in a single lymph node OR in one organ outside the lymph node.
  • Stage 2 (locally advanced disease): This is the stage an individual is in if the cancer is found in two or more lymph node regions that are on the same side of the diaphragm.
  • Stage 3 (advanced disease): This is when the cancer has evolved and now affects lymph nodes on both sides of the diaphragm.
  • Stage 4 (widespread disease): This stage occurs when the cancer is found in several parts of one or more organs or tissues (in addition to the lymph nodes) or is found in the liver, blood, or bone marrow.

Asbestos Exposure and Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma

While there is not enough evidence to prove a causal relationship between asbestos exposure and non-Hodgkin lymphoma, there is a plausible link between the two. Two case-controlled studies of gastrointestinal non-Hodgkin lymphoma (GINHL) found an association with occupational asbestos exposure and lymphoma. Published in 1982, the Los Angeles study noted a 12-times greater risk of developing GINHL when exposed to “substantial” amounts of asbestos. The other study, in Sweden, found an association between exposure and lymphoma as well, although at a much weaker correlation of 2.12 times greater than the general population.

Many other studies failed to find a statistically significant link between the toxic fibers of asbestos and non-Hodgkin lymphoma. As such, further research is necessary to clarify the diversity of findings associated with the connection, if any, between lymphoma and asbestos exposure.


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