Concerns rise at increase in cases of lymphatic cancer

Lymphomas, cancers that occur in the lymphatic system, are on the rise in the UAE and across the globe, but doctors are unable to pinpoint the factors that are causing a drastic increase in incidence.

Lymphomas, cancers that occur in the lymphatic system, are on the rise in the UAE and across the globe, but doctors are unable to pinpoint the factors that are causing the increase.

The body’s lymphatic system contains a fluid that picks up bacteria and traps them in nodes, where white blood cells attack the invaders.

Non-Hodgkin lymphomas, which are the most common form of the disease, have increased by more than 70 per cent in the past 40 years, according to experts.

“In the UAE, we have seen more patients being diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma over the years,” said Dr Al Saadawi, consultant haematologist, division head, at Sheikh Khalifa Medical City.

“There is something in our environment that is leading to more people developing non-Hodgkin lymphomas. It has been speculated that certain carcinogenic chemicals might be the cause. In the last 20 to 30 years we have seen a drastic increase in the problem.”

Many countries have conducted research into the rise in cases of lymphomas, but conclusive evidence as to why it is becoming more common is yet to be found. Globally, non-Hodgkin lymphomas are the 10th most common cancer among women and seventh in men.

In the UAE, they rank fifth in incidence among women and fourth in men, according to a study by the World Health Organisation’s Globocan project.

The Seer factsheet, produced by the National Cancer Institute, found that non-Hodgkin lymphomas are the sixth leading cause of death and the second most rapidly increasing malignancy.

The fact sheet focused on statistics based on the US population. They found that the average age at which diagnosis took place was 66.

The diagnosis of non-Hodgkin lymphoma is not simple and it can be misdiagnosed as Aids.

“Weight loss, sweating, fever and enlargement of lymph glands are symptoms of both non-Hodgkins lymphoma and Aids,” said Dr Omran Bedir Gatee, an endocrinology, diabetes and metabolic disorders consultant at Burjeel Hospital.

“We first do an HIV test to rule out that possibility. When one has Aids, the immune system may be compromised and thus they may suffer from a lymphoma,” said Dr Gatee.

A lack of awareness of the problem also prevents the cancer from being detected at an early stage, Dr Gatee said. “To avoid late detection of non-Hodgkin lymphoma, people should go to a doctor [if] they find that lymph nodes in the chest or armpit have increased in size.”

With lymphomas, in most cases the enlarged lymph nodes are painless.

“Even those who don’t have a family history of lymphomas are at risk. Although it is usually known to affect older people, there are young patients diagnosed as well,” said Dr Gatee.

“It is important to make people alert. Especially because the symptoms are not specific and there is no pain in the lymph nodes, people tend to ignore it.”

arizvi@@thenational.ae

Published: December 3, 2014 04:00 AM

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