Childhood cancers: lymphoma

Lymphoma is a cancer of the lymphatic system in children under the age of 15; non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma is the most frequent type of lymphoma. In adolescents and adults, it is more likely to be Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

Characteristics of childhood lymphomas

Lymphomas develop and damage the white blood cells or lymphocytes, which help the body to fight infection.

In children, four sub-types of “non-Hodgkins” lymphoma (NHL) can be diagnosed: Burkitt lymphoma (B-cell), lymphoblastic lymphoma (T- or pre-B-cells), anaplastic large-cell lymphoma and diffuse large B-cell lymphoma.

NHL tumors occur in the lymph nodes spread throughout the body, or in the lymph tissue present in many organs. They can thus occur in several different parts of the body.

Only a biopsy can confirm the diagnosis of a NHL tumor and determine its sub-type. The diagnosis may be made via fine-needle aspiration cytology, but sometimes still requires surgical excision of an adenopathy, for example.

Treatment of childhood lymphoma

The treatment almost exclusively involves polychemotherapy (a combination of several chemotherapies).

Tumors that respond positively to current treatments

NHLs are highly sensitive to chemotherapy, a major therapeutic tool. Radiotherapy is used only for exceptional indications.

The duration and intensity of the treatment are variable according to the type of lymphoma, and vary from two months for localized, fully operated-upon Burkitt lymphomas to two years for lymphoblastic lymphomas.

Targeted therapies, most frequently monoclonal antibodies, are emerging. The aim of these treatments is to maintain and improve the very positive recovery rate while reducing the harmful effects of the chemotherapy.