Lymphomas in the brain

Q: Can you get lymphomas of the brain?

A: Lymphomas are cancers of our body’s immune system.

Our immune system protects us from infection. It is a complex system made up of the bone marrow, the thymus gland (which lies behind the breast bone), the spleen and the lymph nodes (or lymph glands).

Most lymphomas start in the lymph glands and sometimes they can spread to involve the brain. When lymphoma involves the brain or spinal cord it is known as a CNS lymphoma (the initials stand for central nervous system).Very occasionally a lymphoma can actually start within the brain tissue itself. These tumours are called primary CNS lymphomas. They used to be extremely rare but have become slightly commoner in recent years as it seems that people who have a reduced immunity after organ transplants or people infected with the HIV virus occasionally develop them..

When lymphomas involve the brain, either as primary or secondary tumours, they can cause a variety of symptoms including headache, vomiting, fits, memory loss, personality change and confusion. Muscle weakness or problems with coordination, leading to difficulty or unsteadiness in walking, may also occur.

LymphomasAfter an initial examination CT or MRI scans will usually show evidence of the lymphoma. A lumbar puncture is also often done to see if there is evidence of lymphoma cells in the fluid that surrounds the brain and spinal cord (cerebrospinal fluid). Sometimes an operation is done to take small sample of tissue for examination under the microscope (a biopsy).

Treatments that may be used for CNS lymphoma include radiotherapy and chemotherapy.. Chemotherapy may be given via a vein (intravenously) or directly into the fluid around the spinal cord and brain (intrathecally).

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