Diagnosis of Lymphoma

If you see your general practitioner for a Lymphoma screening, he or she will ask the following questions:

  • How has your general health been, and how well and normal do you feel in general?
  • When did your symptoms initially appear
  • If you experience bodily pain, where is it?
  • Have you observed any transformations in your appetite?
  • Have you noticed any sudden and unexplained weight loss?
  • Are you constantly feeling excessively tired or weak?
  • What medical issues are you currently facing, and how are they being treated?
  • Please describe your medical history in detail
  • Describe your family’s medical history in detail

Your GP will do a physical exam in addition to asking the following (and more) questions. Your doctor will check whether your lymph nodes have swelling or not. Your GP will inform you beforehand that having swollen lymph nodes are not always indicative of cancer. If your doctor thinks you have Lymphoma, he or she will order a biopsy. Your GP will snip off a small section of tissue from your lymph nodes to examine it and analyze it under a microscope. However, your GP’s diagnosis does not necessarily end at the biopsy stage. The doctor may order further testing to understand the full extent, stage, and type of Lymphoma that you have if he or she thinks you have Lymphoma. These tests include:

  • Bone marrow aspiration/biopsy
  • Chest x-ray
  • PET scan
  • Molecule testing
  • Blood work
  • MRI
Bone marrow aspiration/biopsy

Your oncologist (cancer doctor) will remove small amounts of fluid or tissue from your bone marrow with a needle to analyze and examine it further and better under a microscope. Your bone marrow is the soft, spongy tissue that is at the center of your bones. It is rich in protein and makes all of your blood cells (red and white.)

Chest x-ray

You will stand in front of a particular machine while wearing a thick and protective gown on top of your chest and upper body. This machine will take detailed pictures of the inside of your chest, which your oncologist can analyze for the presence of precancerous or cancerous lymphoma cells. The x-ray machine takes these pictures by pointing powerful beams of shallow dose radioactive waves at your chest. The radiation in these waves is very useful in generating visible images.

PET scan

If your oncologist orders a diagnostic PET scan for you, you’ll be asked to go into a particular room where you will be given unique and powerful radioactive medicines. These medicines contain a very mild type of radiation and are designed to highlight those areas of your body where precancerous or cancerous lymphoma cells are present. This makes it easier for your oncologist to give you a definite and positive or negative confirmation of Lymphoma.  

This type of diagnostic test is advantageous if your oncologist thinks you have a variety of advanced-stage Lymphoma that is non-Hodgkin. Oncologists have found PET scans to be very useful in terms of assigning a particular stage to the types of Lymphoma that their patients have. PET scans are beneficial when analyzing the effectiveness of a specific kind of treatment to send various Lymphomas into remission.  

A trained oncologist can look at the areas of your body that your PET scan highlights (in terms of body tissue). They can tell which areas have either precancerous or cancerous Lymphoma. Also, which is just scar tissue such as the tissues from healed injuries, illnesses, or odd-looking healthy tissue? The PET scan is also good at determining just how effective your lymphoma treatment plan is. Your oncologist can look at your lymph nodes which the PET scan images will highlight and decide whether they are still swollen, or if they have the scar tissue that is indicative of the destruction of cancerous and precancerous cells.

You generally receive a PET scan in a radiologist’s office in an outpatient setting. You’ll have the PET scan done by a radiographer, and the entire test takes anywhere from half an hour to a full hour to complete.  

Since the PET scan must take clear and accurate pictures of your insides, you’ll be asked to fast at least four hours before the procedure. Also, while you generally can exercise before the scan, you should not do any strenuous exercises for a few hours before your PET scan. Your radiologist can make special arrangements for you if you have certain medical or psychological conditions that would make having the PET scan either difficult or impossible for you!

When you arrive at the clinic, you’ll undress to your waist and exchange a traditional and standard hospital gown for your clothes. You’ll lie down on a table that is inside a large machine that is shaped like a donut. This is the PET machine that will be scanning your body. You have to lie still during the entire procedure. The radiographer will inject a small amount of a radioactive dye, which is needed to highlight problematic areas in your body. This dye is harmless and can be flushed out if you drink plenty of water after the scan.  

Because of the nature of the scan, it is advised to have someone else accompany the patient. Don’t do anything requiring cognitive or physical skills for at least a day after your scan. The same applies to drink alcohol. You will generally get your results within two weeks after the scan.

Molecule testing

This test measures changes in specific genes and proteins at the molecular level in individual suspicious cells. One famous molecule test measures the levels and amounts of a protein called Beta 2 Macroglobulin (B2M) in your bloodstream. If you have high levels of B2M in your blood, you likely have Lymphoma.  

Blood work

When you have a blood draw, your radiologist will look for the presence of individual cells, and levels of specific proteins and genes in your blood. The presence of these elements is a reliable indicator of Lymphoma.

MRI

This takes a body scan of various and strategic areas of your body. Your radiologist can analyze the images for the presence of cancerous or precancerous lymphoma cells.

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