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What Are the Uses of Flow Cytometry for Lymphoma?

Debra Barnhart
Debra Barnhart

Flow cytometry can assess abnormalities in cell populations that may indicate the presence of disease, including lymphoma. Testing by flow cytometry for lymphoma can be performed after the physician takes a biopsy or tissue sample from the patient. The tissue sample is sent to a pathologist, which is a doctor who examines it for different types of disease. A flow cytometry allows pathologists to look at separate cells and evaluate their characteristics, and this analysis can be very helpful in detecting disease in its early stages. Using a flow cytometry for lymphoma analysis may also aid in the identification of the kind of lymphoma, as there are over 30 different types though the treatment for many is the same.

During the flow cytometry test cells are mixed with antibodies that give off a fluorescent glow when they react with markers on the cell surface. Most cytometers use a laser beam to make this fluorescence visible. Flow cytometry allows for the identification of different types of cells. An over-abundance of one type of cell, or the appearance cells that do not belong in the group, might be indicative of a malignancy.


Lymphoma initiates in lymphocytes, which consist of two different types of white blood cells: type B or type T. These cells move through the lymphatic system fighting disease and other assaults on the body. Lymphoma is typical of all cancers and develops if cells, in this case lymphocytes, multiply uncontrollably. When this happens, the lymphocytes will clog other parts of the lymphatic system like the lymph nodes or spleen causing tumors to form. These tumors can grow large enough to hinder the function of the organs involved as well as other nearby organs.

A physician might order a test using flow cytometry for lymphoma diagnosis, but a number of tests can be used to detect the presence of lymphoma. These tests include body scans, bone biopsies and blood work. A physician may or may not recommend flow cytometry for lymphoma testing based on the types of other tests performed and their results.

Lymphoma is a kind of cancer that initiates in the lymphocytes— the white blood cells moving through the lymphatic system. This disease has two main variances: Hodgkin and non-Hodgkin. Hodgkin lymphoma is specific to the B cell lymphocyte, while non-Hodgkin lymphoma can occur in either B cells or T cells. Both forms have similar symptoms that can include swollen lymph nodes, fever, itching all over the body, and swelling in the face and neck.

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