Primary Cerebral Lymphoma

Written by Jaime Herndon
Medically Reviewed by George Krucik, MD

What Is Primary Cerebral Lymphoma?

Primary cerebral lymphoma is also known as brain lymphoma or central nervous system lymphoma. The brain and spinal cord make up the central nervous system. Cells called lymphocytes are part of the lymph system and can travel through the central nervous system. When they become cancerous, they can cause cancer in these tissues.

Primary cerebral lymphoma is a rare cancer that starts in the lymph tissues of the brain or spinal cord. It is called primary cerebral lymphoma when it starts in the central nervous system, as opposed to when it spreads to the brain from somewhere else. In some cases, it can also start in the eye.

Without treatment, individuals with this cancer typically die within two months. Those who receive treatment usually live at least three or four more years, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center (UMM, 2011).

What Causes Primary Cerebral Lymphoma?

The exact cause of this cancer is unknown. Lymph tissues are part of the immune system. Individuals with impaired immune systems are at increased risk of developing this form of cancer. This disease has also been associated with the Epstein-Barr virus, but more research is needed.

What Are the Symptoms of Primary Cerebral Lymphoma?

Symptoms of this disease include:

• changes in speech or vision

fever

headaches

• unexplained weight loss

seizures

• changes in personality

• numbness to extreme temperatures

• paralysis on one side of the body

Not everyone has the same symptoms, and patients will not always have every symptom. For an accurate diagnosis, your doctor needs to run a variety of tests.

Diagnosing Primary Cerebral Lymphoma

Along with a physical exam, your doctor will ask you questions about your medical and family history. A neurological exam that evaluates your mental status, balance, and reflexes will be performed. Other tests used to diagnose primary cerebral lymphoma include:

CT scan

• slit-lamp eye exam

• MRI

• blood work

• biopsy

lumbar puncture to look at cerebrospinal fluid

How Is Primary Cerebral Lymphoma Treated?

The treatment method used to treat primary cerebral lymphoma depends on:

  • the severity and extent of disease
  • your age and general health
  • your expected response to treatment

Talk with your doctor about your preferences for treatment and what to expect regarding side effects.

Radiation

Radiation uses high-energy rays to shrink and kill cancer cells. For this kind of cancer, there are two possible modes of administration. External radiation is given with a machine that aims the radiation at the cancerous area. Internal radiation uses radioactive seeds, catheters, or wires placed directly into the cancer to kill the cancer.

Chemotherapy

Chemotherapy for cancer uses drugs to kill the cancer cells. Rather than just killing the cells in one area, like radiation, it is a systemic treatment. This means the drugs are able to go through the bloodstream to every part of your body, killing cancer cells that have traveled. These drugs can be given orally or intravenously.

Steroids

Steroids are another option in treating this cancer. The body naturally makes steroid hormones, but synthetic steroids can be given to shrink lymphomas.

Clinical Trials

A clinical trial may be an option for you. Clinical trials use new medications or treatments to see if they are more effective than current treatments. These trials are closely monitored, and you can leave the trial at any time. They are not appropriate for everyone, so ask your doctor about them if you think this might be an option for you.

Side effects can vary depending on the treatment you are given. Radiation can cause neurological complications, headaches, and confusion. Chemotherapy causes a variety of side effects depending on the drug, including nausea and vomiting, nerve damage, hair loss, and mouth sores. Talk with your doctor about what to expect and how to minimize any side effects.

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