Understanding Lymphoma of the Colon and Rectum

An Overview of Colorectal Lymphoma

Colon cancer cells dividing
Colon cancer cells dividing. Science Picture Co/Collection Mix: Subjects/Getty Images

Lymphoma can occur in the colon and rectum as well as other sites throughout the body. It is a form of cancer of the immune cells, the lymphocytes. To understand lymphoma, you need to know more about lymph, lymphocytes, lymph nodes and the lymphatic system.

Lymph comes from the Latin word for water, which is lympha. This is because lymph looks like water: it's a clear, colorless fluid that helps the body fight infection.

Your Lymphatic System is Like a Map

The lymphatic system is like a detailed road map with large dots (cities), small dots (towns), and a bunch of thin lines (roads). You can think of the map as your body and the network of dots and lines as your lymphatic system.

On this map, each lymphocyte is a person. Each town is a lymph node, a place where there are a lot of lymphocytes. Each city is a cluster of lymph nodes. And each road is a lymphatic vessel. Just as people use roads to get where they're going, lymphocytes use lymphatic vessels to get where they're going.

Invasion of Lymph Node "Cities"

Lymphoma is like a city whose mayor has gone mad and designs a machine to crank out drones who have one purpose: to make sure he stays in office. These "people" consume resources but don't give back to the community. The mayor just keeps cranking them out and at first, no one notices because they fit in quite nicely.

But eventually, they overcrowd the city and even cripple it. If given enough time, the drones will hitchhike down the road to a new town and cripple it as well.

That's why someone needs to monitor the city, and that someone is you. The first step is to realize that the mayor is nuts (via colon cancer screening or symptoms).

The second step is to remove him from office (via treatment).

Types of Colorectal Lymphoma

Even though lymph node "cities" are located in the groin, neck, chest, abdomen, and underarms, lymphomas can occur virtually anywhere in the body. Non-Hodgkins lymphoma accounts for about 0.5 percent of all colorectal cancers and has many forms. These include:

  • MALT lymphoma
  • Follicular cell lymphoma
  • CLL/SLL lymphoma
  • Mantle cell lymphoma
  • Large B cell lymphoma
  • Anaplastic large cell lymphoma
  • Enteropathy-associated T cell lymphoma
  • Peripheral T cell lymphoma
  • Burkitt's lymphoma

Half of colorectal lymphomas are discovered at an advanced stage (stage 4) and have spread to other organs or to the bone marrow. Tumors that have metastasized are harder to treat than ones that haven't. So please, check in on your mayor every once in a while, even if you haven't received any complaints lately.

Other Types of Colorectal Cancer:


Alsaigh, N. and Fogt, F. "Gastrointestinal Malignant Non-Hodgkin's B Cell Lymphomas in the Immunocompetent Patient." Oncology Reports 10.1 (Jan. 2003): 3-8. [http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/entrez/query.fcgi?cmd=Retrieve&db=PubMed&list_uids=12469135&dopt=Abstract].

Detailed Guide: Lymphoma, Non-Hodgkin's Type: What Are the Key Statistics About Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma? American Cancer Society. 30 May 2006.[http://www.cancer.org/docroot/CRI/content/CRI_2_4_1X_What_are_the_key_statistics_for_non-Hodgkins_lymphoma_32.asp?sitearea=].

What You Need to Know about Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma. National Cancer Institute. 5 Jul. 2006 [http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/wyntk/non-hodgkins-lymphoma].

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