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Leukemia & Lymphoma

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Childhood Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma Treatment (PDQ®): Treatment - Health Professional Information [NCI] - Treatment Option Overview


Medical Emergencies

There are two potentially life-threatening clinical situations that are often seen in children with NHL: (1) mediastinal masses and (2) tumor lysis syndrome, most often seen in lymphoblastic and Burkitt or Burkitt-like NHL. These emergent situations should be anticipated in children with NHL and addressed immediately.

Mediastinal masses

Patients with large mediastinal masses are at risk of cardiac or respiratory arrest during general anesthesia or heavy sedation.[9] Due to the risks of general anesthesia or heavy sedation, a careful physiologic and radiographic evaluation of the patient should be carried out and the least invasive procedure should be used to establish the diagnosis of lymphoma.[10,11] Bone marrow aspirate and biopsy should always be performed early in the workup of these patients. If a pleural effusion is present, a cytologic diagnosis is frequently possible using thoracentesis. In those children who present with peripheral adenopathy, a lymph node biopsy under local anesthesia and in an upright position may be possible.[12] In situations in which the above diagnostic procedures are not fruitful, consideration of a computed tomography (CT)-guided core needle biopsy should be contemplated. This procedure can frequently be carried out using light sedation and local anesthesia before proceeding to more invasive procedures. Care should be taken to keep patients out of a supine position. Most procedures, including CT scans, can be done with the patient on their side or prone. Mediastinoscopy, anterior mediastinotomy, or thoracoscopy are the procedures of choice when other diagnostic modalities fail to establish the diagnosis. A formal thoracotomy is rarely, if ever, indicated for the diagnosis or treatment of childhood lymphoma. Occasionally, it will not be possible to perform a diagnostic operative procedure because of the risk of general anesthesia or heavy sedation. In these situations, preoperative treatment with steroids or localized radiation therapy should be considered. Since preoperative treatment may affect the ability to obtain an accurate tissue diagnosis, a diagnostic biopsy should be obtained as soon as the risk of general anesthesia or heavy sedation is thought to be alleviated.

Tumor lysis syndrome

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