Surgery is rarely a means of curing non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. There are three main reasons why surgery may be performed:
Biopsy is not a treatment as such. It is a means of obtaining a sample of tissue to help doctors to diagnose non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. The tissue can be examined under the microscope, and various laboratory tests can also be performed on it. This can help in deciding if the patient has non-Hodgkin's lymphoma and, if so, what type of lymphoma it is. Biopsies can also be used to assess how well the non-Hodgkin's lymphoma is responding to treatment.
Most biopsies can be carried out with a local anaesthetic. However, children, particularly nervous patients and those having a biopsy of a lymph node that is not easily accessible may need to have a general anaesthetic.
There are several types of biopsy:
Gastrointestinal surgery and splenectomy
If the spleen is heavily involved by non-Hodgkin's lymphoma it may be removed, which is known as a splenectomy. This is carried out under a general anaesthetic. People who have had a splenectomy are more likely to contract certain bacterial infections, and should, in general, receive vaccinations to prevent them.
Non-Hodgkin's lymphoma of the stomach is sometimes removed by surgery. It is not entirely clear whether this is necessary or not, and chemotherapy with or without radiotherapy or monoclonal antibody therapy may be used instead.
Coping with surgery
Most biopsies are performed with local anaesthetic, and the patient does not usually need to stay in hospital. Patients having an operation, such as a removal of the spleen, or 'splenectomy', that involves a general anaesthetic may be admitted to hospital the day before and will usually stay in hospital for a few days afterwards.