Symptoms and diagnosis of Non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL)

Symptoms of Non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL)

The first symptom is usually a lump or painless swelling of the lymph nodes in your neck, armpit or groin that does not go away. Other symptoms, known as B symptoms, may include the following:

  • Heavy night sweats.
  • High temperatures or fevers.
  • Loss of appetite.
  • Unexplained weight loss.
  • Tiredness (fatigue).
  • Itchy skin.

A cough or shortness of breath can occur in children. Children may also complain of a pain in their tummy and a lump may be noticeable. As non-Hodgkin lymphoma can affect different parts of your body, other symptoms can include:

  • Increased risk of infections.
  • Breathlessness.
  • Nosebleeds, bruising or heavy periods.
  • Abdominal pain.
  • Diarrhoea.

Even though these symptoms can be caused by conditions other than leukaemia, do have them checked by your family doctor (GP).

Diagnosis of Non-Hodgkin lymphoma

Visit your family doctor (GP) first if you are worried about any symptoms. He or she will examine you and, if concerned, will refer you to a specialist called a haematologist. This doctor treats abnormal changes to blood and bone marrow. The main test to diagnose non-Hodgkin lymphoma is a lymph node biopsy.

Lymph node biopsy

This test removes a sample of cells from an enlarged lymph node and looks at them closely under a microscope in the laboratory. If the enlarged node is on your neck, the cells can be taken without putting you to sleep. If the node is deeper, like in your chest, you will need a general anaesthetic.

Other tests

  • Blood tests.
  • MRI scan.
  • CT scan.
  • Ultrasound scan.
  • PET scan.
  • Bone marrow biopsy.
  • Lumbar puncture.
  • Chest X-ray.

These tests can help to stage the lymphoma. This means finding out its size and if it has spread anywhere else. This in turn can help your doctor to plan the right treatment for you.

Learn more about the above tests.