LYMPHOMA, the most common type of blood cancer, is difficult to spot early because it shares several symptoms with other diseases such as fever, chills, night sweats, unexplained weight loss, and fatigue. Its most telling sign is the painless swelling of lymph nodes — kulani in local parlance — in the neck, armpit, or groin.

“Stop Lymphoma, Stop Lymphoma,” an initiative led by biopharmaceutical firm Takeda Healthcare Philippines, Inc., aims to raise public awareness about the disease, which has two kinds: non-Hodgkin lymphoma, wherein white blood cells called lymphocytes grow out of control and form tumors throughout the body; and Hodgkin lymphoma, which makes up 20% of all lymphoma cases and is characterized by the presence of a lymphocyte called Reed-Sternberg cells.

Like any other cancer, survival rates for lymphoma drop when it is discovered in the advanced stages.

“Between 40-48% of those newly diagnosed with Hodgkin lymphoma present in the advanced stages, or stages 3 and 4,” said Dr. Jorge G. Ignacio, chairman of the Philippine General Hospital Cancer Institute.

In the Philippines, there were over 4,000 new patients diagnosed with lymphoma in 2020. While its incidence isn’t as alarming as other types of cancers, it is important, said Dr. Ignacio, “because Hodgkin’s lymphoma shows a bimodal age distribution and is seen in both younger and elderly patients.”

Hodgkin’s lymphoma ranks second to melanoma in terms of the premature mortality caused per death in cancers affecting both sexes. Younger patients require more aggressive treatment than their older counterparts.

“These young patients, who are supposed to be very active in society, are lost to Hodgkin’s lymphoma. The cost of productivity due to this cancer is tremendous,” Dr. Ignacio said at a Feb. 24 webinar organized by Takeda Philippines.

As part of “Stop Lymphoma, Stop Lymphoma,” Takeda Philippines partnered with the Philippine Cancer Society to provide free testing to over 60 patients; webinars are also in the works with the Philippine College of Hematology and Transfusion Medicine, Philippine Society of Pathology, Philippine Society of Medical Oncology, Philippine Society of Hematology, and Blood Transfusion and Health Futures, Inc.

“By joining the ‘Spot Lymphoma, Stop Lymphoma’ initiative, we hope to make the general public more aware about lymphoma, the issues that patients face, and what they can do to help,” said Jheric P. Delos Angeles, co-founder of Lymphoma Philippines Foundation.

Mr. Delos Angeles founded LPF in 2016, after he was declared free of the disease. His initial symptoms were persistent back pain, night sweats, and a swollen lymph node in his left armpit. — Patricia B. Mirasol