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What causes quick advance of non-hodgkin’s lymphoma?

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Internal Medicine Specialist
Practicing since : 1981
Answered : 824 Questions
My husband died in 1991 of T cell immunoblastic non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. He was 41 and we were told that one of the reasons the disease would progress so fast (seven months) is because he was younger--something about cells multiplying faster. I am trying to clarify this because it would seem a younger person would have a better chance at fighting disease.
Posted Tue, 5 Aug 2014 in Lymphoma
Answered by Dr. Karen Steinberg 3 hours later
Brief Answer:
More aggressive lymphoma

Detailed Answer:

Sympathies for loss of your husband. Younger people generally respond better to infectious diseases and trauma, but cancer is a different story. Younger people who get cancer more often have a much more aggressive tumor. For instance, breast cancer occurs most often in postmenopausal women, but is often responsive to treatment. Premenopausal women who get breast cancer frequently have a form that spreads much more rapidly and is generally less responsive to treatment.

How quickly the cancer advances depends on the type of cancer it is. The type of lymphoma your husband had was an aggressive type. If he had been older when he got the lymphoma, it probably would be a more "differentiated" type, where the cells are older and don't divide as quickly. "Immunoblastic" indicates very young cells that grow rapidly. The doctors might have been referring more to the young cells than your husband's age. Cancers from young, less differentiated, cells aren't so easily controlled.

Hope this answers your query. Again, I am very sorry for your loss. If you have further questions, please ask.
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Follow-up: What causes quick advance of non-hodgkin’s lymphoma? 1 hour later
Thank you and I am still a little confused. Do older people not get T cell immunoblastic non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma? And, do the cancer cells of this lymphoma multiply quickly regardless of the patient's age?
Answered by Dr. Karen Steinberg 51 minutes later
Brief Answer:
The cells multiply quickly regardless of age

Detailed Answer:
Hi XXXXXXX I'm sorry I wasn't clear. Yes, the cells of this lymphoma multiply quickly regardless of the person's age. What I was trying to say was that perhaps the doctors meant it would spread faster because the cells themselves were young, and thus more aggressive. The other point was sometimes when younger people get a cancer, they often get a more aggressive type.

There are different types of T-cell lymphomas; which type a person gets may be partially a factor of age. If a T-cell lymphoma was going to occur, the TYPE that is more likely in an older person might be less aggressive (which means it would not be an Immunoblastic T-cell lymphoma). In other words, younger people, although at less risk for getting tumors in general, are at more risk for getting aggressive forms when they do get one.

I don't know whether the doctors were referring to that possibility or the fact that the tumor cells themselves were "young." I hope this clears up the confusion. Please let me know if it doesn't.
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