Lymphoma expert Dr. Matthew Matasar defines follicular lymphoma and provides an overview of common disease symptoms.
Dr. Matthew Matasar is a lymphoma expert at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center and Chief of Medical Oncology at Memorial Sloan Kettering Bergen. To learn more about Dr. Matasar, visit here.
What is follicular lymphoma?
Good question. So, follicular lymphoma, the first thing to say is that it’s a type of lymphoma. And lymphomas are cancers of lymphocytes, of immune cells. So, these illnesses are all cancers that come from and are of the immune system. There’s a tremendous variety of lymphomas, more than 100 different types, and these range from the slowest-growing to the fastest-growing things, and everything in between. But follicular lymphoma is one of the more common of these 100 plus diseases.
It’s actually the second most common in America, and the most common of what we call the indolent, or naturally slow-growing, B-cell lymphomas. It’s called follicular lymphoma, because the stage of lymphocyte growing up at which we think the cells went wrong was when they normally live inside of these little nests, or follicles, inside of lymph nodes. People get confused. They’re like follicular, is that like hair follicles? It’s not that I have that many left. But no, it’s really about the lymph node follicles. And that’s sort of the stage at which we think that the cells went wrong.
What are the symptoms of follicular lymphoma?
So, it’s a very variable illness. Sometimes, this is a disease that presents with symptoms. People have swollen lymph nodes, swollen glands that they feel or that their doctors felt, or they have lymph nodes or other growths in the body that are causing pain or discomfort. More typically, however, this will be found accidentally doing testing for other purposes.
You have a kidney stone, and your doctors do a CAT scan to look at the kidney stone. And they say, “Oh, what are those lymph nodes swollen about? What’s that about? We should probably figure out what’s going on there.” And then, there’s the third group which sort of present with what we all vague or constitutional symptoms, which is stuff like progressive fatigue, or maybe even fevers, or night sweats. But fatigue is a very common symptom that sometimes don’t even realize was there until sort of hindsight when they’re feeling better. And they’re like, “Wow, I didn’t know I could feel this good. I guess I’ve been tired for these last years. And I feel so much better. Thanks, doc.”