General Information About AIDS-Related Lymphoma
Key Points for This Section
- AIDS-related lymphoma is a disease in which malignant (cancer) cells form in the lymph system of patients who have acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS).
- There are many different types of lymphoma.
- AIDS-related lymphomas grow and spread quickly.
- Signs of AIDS-related lymphoma include weight loss, fever, and night sweats.
- Tests that examine the body and lymph system are used to help detect (find) and diagnose AIDS-related lymphoma.
- Certain factors affect prognosis (chance of recovery) and treatment options.
AIDS is caused by the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), which attacks and weakens the body's immune system. The immune system is then unable to fight infection and diseases that invade the body. People with HIV disease have an increased risk of developing infections, lymphoma, and other types of cancer. A person with HIV disease who develops certain types of infections or cancer is then diagnosed with AIDS. Sometimes, people are diagnosed with AIDS and AIDS-related lymphoma at the same time. For information about AIDS and its treatment, please see the AIDSinfo Web site.
- Lymph: Colorless, watery fluid that travels through the lymph system and carries white blood cells called lymphocytes. Lymphocytes protect the body against infections and the growth of tumors.
- Lymph vessels: A network of thin tubes that collect lymph from different parts of the body and return it to the bloodstream.
- Lymph nodes: Small, bean-shaped structures that filter lymph and store white blood cells that help fight infection and disease. Lymph nodes are located along the network of lymph vessels found throughout the body. Clusters of lymph nodes are found in the underarm, pelvis, neck, abdomen, and groin.
- Spleen: An organ that makes lymphocytes, filters the blood, stores blood cells, and destroys old blood cells. The spleen is on the left side of the abdomen near the stomach.
- Thymus: An organ in which lymphocytes grow and multiply. The thymus is in the chest behind the breastbone.
- Tonsils: Two small masses of lymph tissue at the back of the throat. The tonsils make lymphocytes.
- Bone marrow: The soft, spongy tissue in the center of large bones. Bone marrow makes white blood cells, red blood cells, and platelets.
Lymphomas are divided into two general types: Hodgkin lymphoma and non-Hodgkin lymphoma. Both Hodgkin lymphoma and non-Hodgkin lymphoma may occur in AIDS patients, but non-Hodgkin lymphoma is more common. When a person with AIDS has non-Hodgkin lymphoma, it is called an AIDS-related lymphoma.
For more information, see the following PDQ summaries:
- Adult Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma Treatment
- Childhood Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma Treatment
- Primary CNS Lymphoma Treatment
Non-Hodgkin lymphomas are grouped by the way their cells look under a microscope. They may be indolent (slow-growing) or aggressive (fast-growing). AIDS-related lymphoma is usually aggressive. There are three main types of AIDS-related lymphoma:
- Weight loss or fever for no known reason.
- Night sweats. (For more information, see the PDQ summary on Hot Flashes and Night Sweats.)
- Painless, swollen lymph nodes in the neck, chest, underarm, or groin.
- A feeling of fullness below the ribs.
The following tests and procedures may be used:
- Physical exam and history : An exam of the body to check general signs of health, including checking for signs of disease, such as lumps or anything else that seems unusual. A history of the patient’s health habits and past illnesses and treatments will also be taken.
- Complete blood count (CBC): A procedure in which a sample of blood is drawn and checked for the following:
- The number of red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets.
- The amount of hemoglobin (the protein that carries oxygen) in the red blood cells.
- The portion of the sample made up of red blood cells.
- Lymph node biopsy : The removal of all or part of a lymph node. A pathologist views the tissue under a microscope to look for cancer cells. One of the following types of biopsies may be done:
- Excisional biopsy : The removal of an entire lymph node.
- Incisional biopsy : The removal of part of a lymph node.
- Core biopsy : The removal of tissue from a lymph node using a wide needle.
- Fine-needle aspiration (FNA) biopsy : The removal of tissue from a lymph node using a thin needle.
- Bone marrow aspiration and biopsy : The removal of bone marrow, blood, and a small piece of bone by inserting a hollow needle into the hipbone or breastbone. A pathologist views the bone marrow, blood, and bone under a microscope to look for signs of cancer.
- HIV test : A test to measure the level of HIV antibodies in a sample of blood. Antibodies are made by the body when it is invaded by a foreign substance. A high level of HIV antibodies may mean the body has been infected with HIV.
- Chest x-ray : An x-ray of the organs and bones inside the chest. An x-ray is a type of energy beam that can go through the body and onto film, making a picture of areas inside the body.
- The stage of the cancer.
- The number of CD4 lymphocytes (a type of white blood cell) in the blood.
- Whether the patient has ever had AIDS-related infections.
- The patient's ability to carry out regular daily activities.