Symptoms & Diagnosis
The symptoms of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma may be confused with symptoms caused by other conditions that are not related to cancer. See a doctor if you have symptoms that concern you.
Symptoms of lymphoma include:
- Painless swollen lymph nodes in the neck, underarm, groin, chest or abdomen
- Unexplained fever, weight loss or night sweats—sometimes called “B symptoms”
- Ongoing fatigue
- Itchy skin
- Red bumps on the skin
- Swelling in the face, neck or upper chest, caused by lymphoma pressing on the major vein that drains blood from these areas
- Feeling of fullness in the abdomen from an enlarged liver, spleen or lymph nodes
- Abdominal problems, such as nausea, vomiting and indigestion
Symptoms of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma can come on very quickly. Some people are diagnosed with the disease within days to weeks of getting symptoms. Some types of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma can come on slowly over several months.
Your doctor will do a physical exam first to look for signs of lymphoma. The doctor will also ask about your health history.
If the doctor thinks that you may have lymphoma, the doctor will probably perform a biopsy next to confirm the diagnosis. To perform a biopsy, a doctor removes a small sample of tissue to examine under a microscope. This may mean removing part or all of a lymph node or some tissue by surgery.
Another method is to take a sample of fluid or tissue using a needle, called needle biopsy or fine-needle aspiration. This type of biopsy may be done to check the bone marrow or the fluid around the lungs (pleural fluid) or in the membrane around the abdominal organs (peritoneal fluid).
Your doctor may also want you to have imaging studies, such as a chest X-ray, ultrasound, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), computed tomography (CT) scan or positron emission tomography (PET) scan, to see pictures of the inside of your body. This allows the doctor to look for enlarged lymph nodes, tumors or areas of cancer activity.
Doctors may do further tests to detect whether the cancer has spread around the lymph system or to other areas. This helps your doctor determine the stage of your cancer, which will be important when it’s time to make decisions about your treatment. You may need these or other tests:
- Complete blood count, or CBC: to determine how many cells of each type are circulating in the blood stream
- Blood chemistry analysis: to look for chemicals in the blood that indicate disease in certain organs or tissues
- Lumbar puncture, or spinal tap: to remove cerebrospinal fluid from the spinal column and check it for cancer cells
- Bone marrow test: to see if the lymphoma has spread to the bone marrow