Don West’s brain lymphoma diagnosis

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Lymphoma is a type of cancer that attacks the lymphatic system – a series of tubes and lymph nodes that carry lymph, a fluid made up of white blood cells such as lymphocytes throughout the body. Because the lymphatic system operates in most parts of the body, lymphoma can occur just about anywhere.

West has a particular kind of lymphoma called brain lymphoma – also known as primary cerebral lymphoma or central nervous system (CNS) lymphoma – which is a type of non-Hodgkin lymphoma that starts in brain or spinal cord, the membranes surrounding the brain or spinal cord, or the eyes.

While the cause of brain lymphoma is unknown, the Canadian Cancer Society states that people with weakened immune systems are particularly susceptible to this form of cancer as the lymph tissue is part of the immune system.

The presence of immune system dysfunctions such as AIDS or hereditary immune conditions are risk factors associated with brain lymphoma.

What are the symptoms?
Symptoms of brain lymphoma vary depending on where specifically the cancer started but can include:

  • Headaches
  • Changes in speech or vision
  • Changes to your personality
  • Seizures
  • Difficulty walking and balancing

Doctors diagnosing brain lymphoma will typically run tests on mental status and reflexes as well as a look into the eyes to check for structural abnormalities.

An MRI, CT scan, biopsy or spinal tap may also be performed to help understand the extent of the cancer and begin planning treatment.

What is the treatment?
Treatment for brain lymphoma is largely dependant on the age of the patient, the status of the cancer and how well the patient is expected to handle the treatment.

Radiation, chemotherapy, targeted drugs, stem cell transplants and steroids are all common treatments. Patients can also enter clinical trials to try new treatments as an alternative to the standard methods.

How common is it?
Brain lymphoma is more common in people ages 45 to 70, and according to the Canadian Cancer Society, an estimated 3,000 Canadians were diagnosed with brain and spinal cord cancer with an estimated 2,500 people dying from it.

A 2011 study in Neuro-Oncology states that brain lymphoma has a recurrence rate of 35 to 60 per cent. Another study from 2013 showed a five-year survival rate of 70 per cent.

Like many forms of cancer, catching brain lymphoma early and undergoing treatment can lead to a better prognosis. The outlook can vary from patient to patient depending on the status of the cancer, their age and how healthy they are otherwise.

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