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Cancer Genetics

Testing for Non Hodgkins Lymphoma

07/31/2000

Question:

Is there a test for Non Hodgkins Lymphoma? My Uncle on my mother`s side had it. He was discharged from the army healthy, was diagnosed a week later, and died less than a month later. He was 21 at the time. I am worried this was a rapid progressing cancer, and wonder if it may strike my children at some point in their lives.

Answer:

When you ask if there is a test for Non-Hodgkin`s Lymphoma (NHL), I am not sure whether you mean a genetic test to see if you are at a hereditary risk for NHL or a screening test to help detect NHL at an early stage when it is most treatable - so I`ll try to answer both.

In general, NHL is one of the least hereditary cancers. It is a component of some extremely rare cancer syndromes that would include many other cancers and medical problems in the family. Given the rarity of these syndromes and the fact that you did not report any other cancers in your family, it is probably unlikely that your uncle had a hereditary form of NHL. Therefore, there is no gene test available or necessary to see if your family has hereditary NHL.

Even when a cancer is not hereditary, close relatives (siblings, parents and children) of the individual with cancer will have a slightly higher risk for developing that same cancer themselves. This is because there may be minor genes that influence cancer risks plus shared environmental exposures within families that slightly increase the cancer risks. A population based study found that parents, siblings, and children of an individual with NHL have 1.68 times the general population risk for developing NHL (so the risk is not even doubled) [Goldgar D, et al. JNCI;1994:1600-07]. This risk would apply to your mother if she is still living. However, you and your children are more distant relatives so you are further removed from the risk and would have basically the general population risk for developing NHL.

Unfortunately, there is no good screening for the early detection of hematologic cancers such as NHL. Family members should be aware of the symptoms of lymphoma. The most common symptom of lymphoma is painless swelling of the lymph nodes in the neck, underarm, or groin. Other symptoms may include the following: unexplained fever, night sweats, constant fatigue, unexplained weight loss, itchy skin, reddened patches on the skin. When symptoms like these occur, they are not sure signs of non-Hodgkin`s lymphoma. They may also be caused by other, less serious conditions, such as the flu or other infections, but such symptoms, especially when persistent, should alert an individual to see their physician for an accurate diagnosis.

For more information about lymphoma, please visit the National Cancer Institute`s informational site on Lymphoma (see weblink provided).

Related Resources:

National Cancer Institute

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Response by:

Heather L Hampel, MS, CGC Heather L Hampel, MS, CGC
Cancer Genetic Counselor
College of Medicine
The Ohio State University

Judith A Westman, MD Judith A Westman, MD
Associate Professor, Clinical Internal Medicine, Pediatrics and Medical Biochemistry
College of Medicine
The Ohio State University