What are the final stages of lymphoma?

What are the stages of lymphoma?

Lymphoma is categorized into stages that describe how far the cancer has spread throughout the body. The stages help determine prognosis and guide treatment. The stages are:

  • Stage I: Cancer is located in one lymph node region or lymphoid organ such as the thymus.
  • Stage II: Cancer is in two or more lymph node regions on the same side of the diaphragm.
  • Stage III: Cancer is in lymph node areas on both sides of the diaphragm. It may also be in an area or organ near the lymph nodes such as the liver or lungs.
  • Stage IV: Cancer has spread to more distant parts of the body such as the bones, brain or skin.

Some key points about staging:

  • The stages are based on how far the cancer has spread, not the size of the tumor.
  • A higher number stage indicates more extensive disease.
  • The stage is determined by physical exams, biopsies, and imaging tests such as CT scans, MRIs and PET scans.
  • The stage provides an idea of prognosis and helps guide treatment options.

Knowing the stage and subtype of lymphoma are the most important factors in determining prognosis and treatment.

What are the final stages of lymphoma?

The final stages of lymphoma refer to stage III and IV disease when the cancer is more advanced and widespread.

Stage III lymphoma means the cancer is located on both sides of the diaphragm. Key points about stage III:

  • Cancer is present in lymph nodes above and below the diaphragm.
  • The cancer may also have spread to nearby tissues like the liver or lungs.
  • Patients often have enlarged lymph nodes, fever, weight loss, and night sweats.
  • Stage III has a worse prognosis than earlier stages.
  • More intensive treatment is typically needed such as multi-drug chemotherapy.

Stage IV lymphoma means the cancer has spread to distant parts of the body outside of the lymphatic system. Key points about stage IV:

  • Cancer has metastasized to organs like the lungs, liver, bones, skin or brain.
  • Patients have B symptoms like fever, drenching night sweats and unexplained weight loss.
  • The cancer can form tumor masses in organs called extra-nodal sites.
  • Bone marrow and blood involvement is common.
  • Stage IV has the worst prognosis compared to earlier stages.
  • Treatment is aimed at controlling disease and managing symptoms.

Stage III and IV are considered advanced, high-grade or end-stage lymphoma. However, survival rates can still vary quite a bit depending on the subtype and other factors.

What are the survival rates for late stage lymphoma?

Survival rates for lymphoma depend heavily on the exact subtype and other prognostic factors. However, patients with advanced, late-stage disease generally have poorer outlooks. Some approximate 5-year survival rates by stage include:

Stage I:

– Hodgkin lymphoma: 90-95%
– Diffuse large B-cell lymphoma: 70%
– Follicular lymphoma: 90%

Stage II:

– Hodgkin lymphoma: 80-90%
– Diffuse large B-cell lymphoma: 60%
– Follicular lymphoma: 70-80%

Stage III:

– Hodgkin lymphoma: 65-75%
– Diffuse large B-cell lymphoma: 40-50%
– Follicular lymphoma: 50-60%

Stage IV:

– Hodgkin lymphoma: 55-65%
– Diffuse large B-cell lymphoma: 30-40%
– Follicular lymphoma: 30-50%

However, prognosis depends heavily on factors like age, treatment tolerance, lymphoma genetics and response to treatment. Survival rates have improved dramatically in recent decades.

What are the symptoms in the final stages?

The symptoms of late-stage lymphoma reflect the cancer’s spread to distant parts of the body. Common symptoms include:

  • Extreme fatigue: Feeling exhausted and weak from the cancer’s effects.
  • Unexplained weight loss: Losing a significant amount of weight without trying due to cancer metabolism.
  • Fever and night sweats: Having fevers over 100.5°F and drenching sweats, especially at night.
  • Itching: Having severe itchiness caused by lymphoma cells in the skin.
  • Cough or trouble breathing: Coughing or breathlessness caused by lung involvement.
  • Abdominal swelling: Enlarged abdomen from an enlarged liver or spleen.
  • Bone pain: Deep bone pain caused by marrow infiltration.
  • Headaches or confusion: Symptoms of brain metastasis or electrolyte imbalances.

Symptoms tend to worsen and become more severe as the lymphoma advances. Pain from lymph node swelling or tumor growth can also increase.

What tests confirm late-stage lymphoma?

Doctors use imaging tests like CT scans, PET/CT scans and MRIs to confirm late-stage lymphoma. These tests allow evaluation of areas deep in the body like the abdomen, pelvis, chest and brain.

CT scan: Computed tomography (CT) combines multiple X-ray images to give detailed views of organs and tissues. It excels at detecting enlarged lymph nodes and tumors in the chest, abdomen and pelvis. Oral and IV contrast dyes may be used to enhance visualization of blood vessels and organs.

PET/CT scan: This combines a CT scan with positron emission tomography (PET). Patients receive an injection of a radiolabeled glucose tracer. Cancer cells show up as bright spots on the scan because of their high metabolism. PET/CT is extremely sensitive for detecting lymphoma anywhere in the body.

MRI: Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) uses magnetic fields and radio waves to produce detailed 3D images. It has excellent resolution for soft tissues. MRIs can detect cancer in lymph nodes, the brain, bone marrow and other organs.

These advanced imaging tests allow accurate staging and detection of metastases to distant organs. Doctors also use blood tests, biopsies and bone marrow sampling to confirm late-stage disease.

What are the treatment options for late-stage lymphoma?

Treatments for late-stage lymphoma include:

Chemotherapy: This is the main treatment for most lymphoma subtypes. Combination chemo uses multiple drugs that kill rapidly dividing cancer cells. For advanced disease, more aggressive regimens are used.

Radiation: High energy radiation beams target and kill localized tumors and enlarged lymph nodes. This can treat problematic areas of disease. Total body irradiation may prepare for stem cell transplant.

Immunotherapy: Drugs like rituximab stimulate the immune system to attack lymphoma cells. These may be combined with chemo. New CAR T-cell therapy can be highly effective for certain patients.

Stem cell transplant: First, high dose chemo is given to destroy bone marrow and residual cancer cells. Then, the patient receives an infusion of their own stem cells or cells from a donor to rescue the bone marrow.

Surgery: Surgery can remove isolated tumors causing problematic symptoms. It is rarely curative by itself for late-stage lymphoma.

Palliative care: Controlling pain, managing side effects, providing emotional support, and improving quality of life are priorities.

The goals of care shift from trying to cure the lymphoma to prolonging life and relieving symptoms. Focus is on maximizing quality of life and supporting the patient and family.

What happens in the final weeks to days of life?

In the last weeks to days of life with lymphoma, patients experience a progressive decline as the body shuts down. Typical symptoms during the final stretch include:

  • Extreme fatigue and weakness
  • Minimal physical activity, often bedbound
  • Disinterest in eating or drinking
  • Treatment stops helping or providing benefit
  • More pain requiring high doses of medications
  • Trouble breathing from lymph nodes pressing on airway
  • Periods of confusion, restlessness or agitation
  • Increasing drowsiness, sleeping most of the time

Care during the end of life phase focuses entirely on comfort and quality of life. The patient receives compassionate care to control pain and other concerning symptoms. Extra support services help the family cope with the realities of approaching death.

The actual dying process occurs when the body systems cease to function. Breathing slows then stops, blood pressure drops critically low, and the heart stops. Death ultimately results from respiratory failure or the heart stopping. Patients are kept as comfortable as possible through hospice care during the final hours.

What are the complications at the end of life?

Common complications during the terminal phase of lymphoma include:

Pain: Severe pain results as lymphoma affects bones, nerves and organs. Strong medications like opioids are required to control pain.

Infections: The weakened immune system cannot fight off infections in the final weeks. Pneumonia, urinary tract infections, and sepsis often develop.

Nutritional problems: Poor intake leads to protein and calorie malnutrition. This accelerates weight loss and muscle wasting. Tube feeding or nutrition support may be options.

Bleeding problems: Platelet counts drop as bone marrow fails, increasing risks of dangerous bleeding. Blood product transfusions can help temporarily.

Respiratory issues: Fluid buildup or pneumonia make breathing increasingly difficult. Oxygen therapy and suctioning may provide relief.

Emotional distress: Anxiety, fear and depression are common as patients face death. Counseling and medications can help during this traumatic time.

The care team works to prevent and manage expected complications to maximize comfort. However, the body’s decline is ultimately unavoidable at the end of life.

What should I expect during hospice care?

Hospice care provides medical, emotional and spiritual support for terminal patients and families. Here’s what to expect with hospice:

  • Care focuses completely on comfort, not cure
  • Treatment is typically at home or at a hospice facility
  • A team of professionals coordinate care including the hospice doctor, nurses, therapists, chaplain, social worker and volunteers
  • Medications and treatments aim to reduce pain, manage symptoms and provide comfort
  • Bereavement support helps family members cope with grief and loss
  • Hospice staff are on-call 24/7 to respond to any needs
  • Spiritual support addresses fears about death and helps provide meaning
  • Hospice allows patients to have a more peaceful death surrounded by loved ones

Hospice can provide valuable support in the final weeks to months of life. The focus is on helping patients live comfortably and die with dignity.

How long can someone live with end-stage lymphoma?

It’s difficult to predict precisely how long someone will live with terminal, end-stage lymphoma. Life expectancy depends on many factors including:

  • Patient’s age and overall health
  • Particular lymphoma subtype and genetics
  • Presence of treatment complications
  • How well symptoms can be controlled
  • Patient’s will to keep living
  • Support from family and health providers
  • Use of hospice and palliative care services

On average, patients with end-stage aggressive lymphomas like DLBCL may live around 5-8 months after discontinuing treatment. For indolent lymphomas like follicular lymphoma, average survival may range from about 2 to 3 years after ending therapy.

However, predicting lifespan is impossible, and some patients far outlive average estimates. Focus should be on making each remaining day meaningful instead of counting days left.


The final stages of lymphoma are difficult for patients and families as they face the realities of end-stage cancer. Despite poor long-term outlooks, treatment can still provide periods of remission and maintain quality of life for awhile. Staying hopeful, focusing on daily joys, and using palliative support can help patients live fully in the time they have left. Hospice offers compassionate end-of-life care when cure is no longer possible. While terminal lymphoma brings profound grief, this period also presents opportunity for deeper connections and meaning.

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