A person who has signs or symptoms that suggest the possibility of non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL) is usually referred to a blood cancer specialist called a hematologist-oncologist. The doctor will order additional tests and a tissue biopsy to make a diagnosis. The signs and symptoms of NHL are also associated with a number of other, less serious diseases.
There are about 600 lymph nodes in the body. The most common early sign of NHL is painless swelling of one or more lymph node(s).
- Most patients with NHL have one or more enlarged lymph nodes in the neck, armpit or groin.
- Less often, a swollen node appears near the ears, the elbow or in the throat near the tonsils.
Occasionally, the disease starts in a site other than the lymph nodes, such as a bone, a lung, the gastrointestinal tract or the skin. In these circumstances, patients may experience symptoms that are associated with that specific site.
Common symptoms of NHL include
- Painless swelling in one or more lymph node(s)
- Unexplained fever
- Drenching night sweats
- Persistent fatigue
- Loss of appetite
- Unexplained weight loss
- Cough or chest pain
- Abdominal pain
- Sensation of bloating or fullness (due to an enlarged spleen)
- Itchy skin
- Enlargement of the spleen or liver
- Rashes or skin lumps.
Some people have no symptoms and the disease may only be discovered during a routine medical examination or while the patient is under care for an unrelated condition.
The term “B symptoms” is used to refer to fever, drenching night sweats and loss of more than 10 percent of body weight over 6 months. B symptoms are significant to the prognosis and staging of the disease. Other NHL symptoms, such as itching and fatigue, do not have the same prognostic importance as B symptoms and are not considered to be B symptoms.
- Download or order The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society’s free booklet, Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma.