Follicular lymphoma affects white blood cells called B-lymphocytes, causing the erratic growth and multiplication of these cells, states the Lymphoma Research Foundation. Cancerous cells spread through the body with the potential to form tumors in the lymph nodes, bone marrow, spleen and other organs.
Follicular lymphoma is the most frequently occurring form of indolent (slow growing) non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, representing 20 to 30 percent of all non-Hodgkin's lymphomas, relates the LRF. Symptoms of follicular lymphoma typically include swelling of the lymph nodes in the neck, armpits and groin, often accompanied by fatigue, shortness of breath, night sweats and weight loss. Many people who develop FL show no discernible symptoms at the time they are diagnosed.
Follicular lymphoma grows extremely slowly, and many patients do not require treatment for years, reports WebMD. Doctors often take a watch-and-wait approach to cases of FL that do not exhibit conspicuous symptoms. If and when treatment becomes necessary, radiation therapy can often eliminate FL in its early stages.
Drugs called monoclonal antibodies are also frequently effective treatments, according to WebMD. These drugs mimic the body's natural immune system defenses, killing cancer cells without seriously damaging healthy tissues. Monoclonal antibodies, such as rituximab, typically have fewer side effects than chemotherapy.
About 30 to 40 percent of follicular lymphoma cases subsequently develop into a more aggressive lymphoma, according to the LRF. These cases typically require treatment with high-dose chemotherapy and autologous stem-cell transplants.