The Psychological Effect of Lymphoma

Often, we talk about fear and anxiety when dealing with any form of cancer, but this is particularly true when talking about lymphoma. 

What disease does this sound like based on the symptoms: recurrent fever, fatigue, breathlessness and coughing and swings in body temperature. It sounds like COVID-19 or the flu, but these are some of the symptoms of lymphoma. Excessive sweating and night sweats, persistent itch, unexplained weight loss and enlarged tonsils are also among the symptoms, which are common in several other maladies. Swelling of the lymph nodes is the most common symptom, but often people who have the disease mistake it for a flu. 

To make matters worse, there are no screening tests for lymphoma. In some cancers like melanoma or breast cancer, a visual or touch check can sometimes be enough to get screened. But for lymphoma, one cannot simply check their swollen lymph nodes and decern if they have cancer. A physical exam from a doctor could decide, but often blood tests and CT scans are least painful way to check for the cancer. Sometimes removing a lymph node or bone marrow sample is the best way to diagnose the condition. 

This is why, according to the Lymphoma Coalition, of which Lymphoma Canada is a part of, 82 per cent of patients surveyed in a recent Global Patient Survey on Lymphoma had negative psychological and emotional effects in the last 12 months. Half of patients fear cancer relapse or progression, and feelings of anxiety, depression and isolation were common. As with many other cancer patients, these feelings became worse during the pandemic. 

The good news is that Hodgkin Lymphoma is one of the most curable forms of cancer. According to the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, the recovery rate for this type of cancer is hovering around 80 per cent, and the rate is expected to increase. For Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma, the 5-year survival rate is close to 74 per cent. Even in stage four, the survival rate is around 64 percent, which is much higher than many forms of cancer in the same stage. 

Regardless, the psychological impacts of this type of cancer are important to spot. That’s why for Lymphoma Day, we are reminded that learning to cope with challenging feelings will not only help with the challenge of the cancer, but for wellbeing in general. While looking after the physical health of someone is important, the psychological impact of lymphoma, and all cancers, cannot be overlooked.