How many people really know what cancer of the spleen is?

In fact, how many even know what the spleen is? Here are the answers to common questions about the spleen and spleen cancer.

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How common is cancer of the spleen?

“Cancer that starts in the spleen is very rare,” says Julia Frater, senior cancer information nurse at Cancer Research UK.

“Some rare types of lymphoma, which is a cancer of the lymphatic system, can start there because the spleen contains lymphatic tissue and, though it’s unusual, some cancers can start in the spleen’s blood vessels.

“Lymphomas that start elsewhere in the body can also sometimes spread to the spleen, as can some other types of cancer.”

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What exactly is lymphoma?

Lymphoma is a cancer of the lymphatic system, and there are two main types: Hodgkin and Non-Hodgkin. Most lymphomas – about four out of five - are non-Hodgkin lymphoma.

The most common place for Hodgkin lymphoma to be noticed is in the lymph nodes in the neck, but it can start in lymph nodes in the chest, abdomen or under the arm. You can also get Hodgkin lymphoma in body organs, and about a third of people diagnosed with Hodgkin lymphoma have it in their spleen.

What does the spleen actually do?

The spleen, which is found under your rib cage, towards your back, in the upper left of your abdomen, is part of the lymph system. It is essentially a drainage network which protects your body against infection by producing white blood cells that trap bacteria and dead tissue flowing through it. The spleen also generally filters blood, and sifts abnormal blood cells from the bloodstream.

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What’s the main symptom of cancer in the spleen?

One main sign that can lead to final diagnosis is an enlarged spleen, but remember this can also be the symptom of many other conditions – like infections, cirrhosis and other liver diseases – and not necessarily cancer.

And what are the other symptoms?

The symptoms of lymphoma in general include swollen glands, night sweats, unexplained weight loss, a high temperature, persistent tiredness or fatigue, difficulty recovering from infections or developing infections more often, a persistent cough or feeling of breathlessness, persistent itching of the skin all over the body.

For more information, visit Cancer Research UK.