What is Hodgkin’s Lymphoma and Why Are So Many Veterans Affected?
Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, formerly known as Hodgkin’s Disease, is a form of lymphatic cancer. The lymphatic system, a part of the immune system, is predominantly made up of a type of white blood cell called lymphocytes. Hodgkin’s Lymphoma usually starts in the B lymphocytes (B Cells), which produce antibodies that protect the body from bacteria and viruses. Lymph tissue is located throughout many parts of the body—therefore, Hodgkin’s Lymphoma can begin nearly anywhere. The body’s main sites of lymphoid tissue include:
- Lymph Nodes, located in many parts of the body such as the pelvis, chest, and abdomen, are connected to one another through a series of lymph vessels;
- Lymph vessels connect the lymph nodes throughout the body and serve the purpose of transporting lymph—a clear fluid containing immune cells— and putting it into the blood stream;
- The spleen, which produces lymphocytes and filters out damaged cells and bacteria from the blood;
- Bone marrow, where new blood cells and lymphocytes are created;
- The thymus, which is also responsible for creating lymphocytes;
- Adenoids and tonsils, which essentially are masses of lymph tissue that create antibodies to combat bacteria breathed or swallowed; and
- The digestive tract.
Hodgkin’s Lymphoma is caused by DNA changes in B lymphocytes (white blood cells). The affected DNA is not something usually apparent at birth—it is thought to be caused by an environmental exposure or virus such as HIV, Epstein-Barr, or mononucleosis. Once the white blood cells are damaged, they begin to mutate and grow in volume, resulting in Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.
Patients are generally alerted by enlarged nodes in areas like the armpit or groin as the lymphatic system begins showing signs that the immune system is under attack by cancerous cells. The patient may be more tired than usual, exhibit fever and cough, and upon examination, display a spleen that is enlarged. Formal diagnosis is made with a biopsy, and then MRIs and CT scans offer further information.
The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society refers to Hodgkin’s Lymphoma as one of the ‘most curable’ cancers, however, the stage of a person’s condition and age can affect these survival rates.
Why are so Many Veterans Affected by Hodgkin’s Lymphoma?
Hodgkin’s Lymphoma is recognized by VA as a presumptive condition for veterans exposed to herbicides during military service, most commonly among veterans who served in the Vietnam War with “boots on the ground” service. . This means that veterans diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma who were exposed to Agent Orange in service are not required to prove that their disability is connected to their military service when applying for disability benefits. For these veterans, the claims process is simplified because the exposure to herbicides during service is presumed to have caused the Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.
Many other conditions such as AL amyloidosis, leukemia, diabetes mellitus type II, and heart disease are considered to be presumptive conditions for those exposed to Agent Orange or other herbicides during service. Surviving spouses or dependents of veterans who have died as a result of Hodgkin’s Lymphoma caused by exposure to Agent Orange or other herbicides may have compensation available to them in the form of Dependency and Indemnity Compensation.
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