Lymphoma Cancer Patient Advocate, Navigator or Health Advocate
The concept of patient advocacy in its current form was developed in 1950’s as the treatment of cancer patients grew more and more technically complicated, as a means to make the voice of the patient more readily heard. In today’s world of constantly evolving medical techniques, treatments, and services, the average individual cannot be expected to be thoroughly acquainted with any and all this material. So it becomes the function of the lymphoma cancer patient advocate to perform a variety of services to ease the burden of the patient, and their family, as they learn to deal with every aspect of the disease.
The primary concern of the lymphoma cancer advocate is to support the cancer patient in all aspects of life with the disease, whether they be physical, emotional, or financial. An advocate can assist the patient in investigating available treatment options and educating the patient on the efficacy of each of them, be it pharmacological or surgical. By educating the patient, the advocate can be of great assistance in helping them make an informed decision about their course of action, and the possible side effects and outcomes. Support may also involve recommending counseling services for the patient, and their family members, to help them cope from day to day. Lymphoma cancer patient advocates may also be of assistance in helping the patient, and their caregivers, deal with any physical debilitation resulting from the disease, and its treatment.
Another aspect of lymphoma cancer patient advocacy is assistance in navigating the financial aspects of treating the disease. An advocate can act as a liaison between the patient and his or her insurance company, assuring that the patient receives any and all benefits to which they are entitled. When one is dealing with a serious disease, it is quite easy to lose track of other aspects of your life. An advocate can help to seek out sources of assistance which can ease the financial burden of the patient.
Education is also a major function of a cancer advocate. Both the patient, and their caregivers, are often in need of information about how the disease will affect their lives, both during its progression, and in its aftermath. Patients must be informed about how their condition will affect their mobility, the ability to care for themselves, and if they will be left with any permanent impairment to their lifestyle. Caregivers need to be instructed in mechanisms, or techniques they must use to cope with the patient’s daily care, such as injections, proper care of surgical dressings, etc.
The cancer patient, above everything else, needs to know that there is someone in their corner. Someone who will help them find their way through the confusing, and sometimes daunting, world of modern medicine. Someone who will have their best interests in mind as they face challenges presented every day in their struggle to find, secure, and finance the best treatment available.
What is Lymphoma Cancer?
A lymphoma is a broad term that refers to two just as broad conditions – Hodgkin’s lymphoma and Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma (more common). It is a type of cancer that specifically affects cells of the immune system – lymphocytes. There are many subtypes of this cancerous disorder. The cancer is largely confined in the lymph nodes but it can spread to other sites; a state called extra-nodal lymphomas.
Symptoms depend on the part where the lymphoma has invaded. They include
· Painless swellings in the neck, the axilla and the inguinal region.
· Swollen lymph nodes in other parts of the body.
· The abdomen may be distended due to spleen enlargement.
· There may be symptoms relating to pressed nerves like tingling and numbness sensation.
· Unexplained weight loss
· Fever and profuse night sweats
· Progressive weakness.
· The brain, chest, abdomen or any other part can be affected and corresponding signs and symptoms relevant to the organ or system affected will be observed.
The exact cause is not known. There are factors that appear to favor lymphoma development but even then what triggers the initial changes is not understood. The risk factors include:
· Age. Older people are more likely to be affected than the younger ones.
· Genetic predisposition.
· Immuno-suppressive states like HIV/AIDS, medically induced immunosuppression and inherited disorders of low immunity
· Infections: Viral ones with HIV, Hepatitis and Epstein Barr virus. Bacterial suspects include Helicobacter pylori
· Environmental pollution through toxic chemicals in industrial and agricultural use. Some beauty products are also suspected.
The history from the patient, the clinical presentation and findings will make the concerned doctor to perform tests to confirm presence, type and sub-type of the lymphoma. The same tests may help in ruling out lymphoma altogether. The tests include:
· Blood tests
· Biopsy of the swelling or bone marrow will also help to see the actual type of lymphoma.
· Imaging diagnostic investigations can include an ultrasound, computerized tomography (CT) and computerized axial tomography (CAT) scans. A magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) can also be done. X-rays may be necessary depending on the site affected. Positron emission tomography (PET) is gaining ground as a newer diagnostic imaging tool.
Treatment used will depend on the type of lymphoma, the age of the patient and the stage of the disease. If caught early prognosis is better. The main approaches to treatment involve:
1. Drug therapy (chemotherapy). The aim here is to force the disease into remission so that although the disease is still there, it is causing no symptoms. Common drugs used include methotrexate, clorambucil, cyclophosphamide and romidepsin.
2. Radiotherapy. High energy radiations are targeted at the affected area with the aim of killing as many cancer cells as possible. Combined drug therapy offers better results than using a single drug.
3. Biological therapy also referred to as immunotherapy is a developing treatment option whereby the body’s immune system is boosted to naturally deal with pathogens or cancers.
4. Stem cell therapy is reserved for lymphomas that are resistant and recurrent despite conventional treatment.
5. Sometimes, if the lymphoma is growing slowly and is causing no symptoms, doctors may opt to keep an eye on it without any treatment unless it suddenly becomes aggressive.
U.S. Statistics for Lymphoma
The 2015 estimates are 71850 new cases of lymphoma (Non-Hodgkin’s) will be discovered. Among them will be 39850 males and the rest females.
17 790 people will die from the disease. The risk of getting the cancer is 1:50 but the ratio can be affected by risk factors listed above.
Early medical intervention has helped many patients with lymphomas live a longer and fuller life.