Dr. Tycel Phillips gives his expert definition of follicular lymphoma and explains why this disease is often found incidentally.
Dr. Tycel Jovelle Phillips is a Medical Oncologist in the Hematology Clinic at The University of Michigan Rogel Cancer Center. Learn more about Dr. Phillips, here.
What exactly is follicular lymphoma?
So, follicular lymphoma is a malignant growth or tumor in some situations, depending on how you want to describe it, of lymphocytes. Lymphocytes are normal cells that we have in our body and are a very important part of our immune system. For a very generic sort of description, lymphocytes come in what we call B and T-cells. B-cells, as I mentioned, are the cells that help make antibodies and it’s how we fight viruses and other diseases. These antibodies help our immune system recognize and hopefully clear these pathogens quicker.
And then we also have T-cells, which I like to refer to as like jailers, who will survey and sort of try to eliminate any abnormal cells. Lymphoma can come in a B-cell lymphoma or a T-cell lymphoma. For western Europe and the U.S., B-cell lymphomas account for the vast majority of cases of lymphoma; about 85%. When we look at B-cell lymphomas, we have Hodgkin’s Lymphomas, which are a separate category, and non-Hodgkin’s lymphomas.
And follicular lymphoma is the most common indolent, or what we consider slow growing, of non-Hodgkin’s lymphomas. So, when we talk about indolent as slow growing, these are lymphomas that are more than likely to be found incidentally by CAT scans. Or if you’re going for some other procedure, they’ll notice that you have enlarged lymph nodes and a biopsy will lead to a diagnosis of follicular lymphoma. In most cases, the cancer has probably been there for several years, at least months, before it’s been found. And in most cases, most patients have been living happily unbeknownst to them together with this cancer.
And so, follicular lymphoma being in that way is something that, again, we consider to be slow growing because, again, the more aggressive lymphomas tend to come with symptoms. So, these can come on more insidiously and are typically found incidentally.