Symptoms and Warning Signs of Lymphoma

Lymphoma is cancer of the lymphocytes, which are white blood cells that primarily exist in the body's lymphatic system, but are also present in blood and other body tissues. There are many different subtypes of lymphoma, all of which affect different types of cancers. The lymphatic system is a network of vessels that carry lymph, a lymphocyte-containing fluid. Lymphocytes fight off bacterial and viral infections and play an important role in the body's immune system. 

Lymph nodes,, also part of the lymphatic system, are small masses of lymph tissue that are scattered throughout the body. Their purpose is to filter the lymph as it passes through them. Lymphoma often starts in the the lymph nodes. 

While there are many different kinds of lymphoma, but for historical reasons, lymphoma is essentially divided into two categories: Hodgkin's lymphoma (HL)—also called Hodgkin's disease—and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma (NHL), which essentially refers to all other lymphomas.

What Are the Signs of Lymphoma?

The warning signs of lymphoma are so subtle that it may take some time before a person with the disease realizes that there is anything seriously wrong.In addition, most of the the symptoms of lymphoma can also indicate other more common and less dangerous conditions. Therefore, it is important to consult your doctor for an accurate diagnosis.

A painless lump in your neck, armpits, or groin

Doctor examining glands of female patient
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This is the most common symptom and often the only one. These lumps are enlarged lymph nodes. Most people first notice these lumps while bathing or changing, or they may be first felt by your partner. Enlarged nodes are not always a sign of lymphoma.

Sometimes there are no symptoms at first, but when symptoms are present, the most common symptom of Hodgkin disease is an enlarged lymph node. Usually, the lump is not painful, but sometimes it may become painful after drinking alcohol.

Cancers other than lymphoma can also cause swollen lymph nodes. And, it should be noted that most cases of enlarged lymph nodes are due to other things, such as infection, rather than cancer. This is especially true in children. Enlarged nodes due to infection generally return to their normal size a couple of weeks or months after the infection clears. 

Unexplained weight loss

Weight loss in the context of lymphoma usually occurs rapidly for no known reason. It occurs because the cancerous cells are requiring extra energy while the body is working hard to try to eradicate them. Unexplained weight loss is more often a feature of fast-growing lympomas.

Often a person can lose ten to fifteen pounds over a couple of months. It is important to see your doctor if you lose more than 5 percent of your body weight over the course of a month, or more than 10 percent over the course of six months. 


Fever that is continuous or occurs intermittently over a period of time and doesn't seem related to a chest or urinary infection is an important sign that you should consult a doctor. Fever that is related to node swellings occurs commonly with infections, and many lymphomas are often mistaken for infections in the early stages. Occasionally, in those affected by Hodgkin lymphoma, a characteristic fever called Pel-Ebstein fever occurs.

Excessive sweating at night

This unique situation may be quite bothersome. You may wake up at night drenched in sweat without any apparent reason.  These night sweats are usually severe enough to require you to change your clothing and bed linens. your nightclothes and bed linen soaking wet. They can also sometimes happen during the day.


Itching is more common in people with Hodgin lymphoma than in non-Hodgin lymphoma. In fact, about one in three people with Hodgkin lymphoma will experience itching, usually without any apparent rash. The itching often affects hands, feet, lower legs, or the entire body. 

Loss of appetite

As lymphomas spread within the body and grow, many people feel a considerable loss of appetite, further accelerating weight loss. 

A feeling of weakness

As cancer cells are always growing, they use up more of the body's nutrients, leaving the body with less. This makes a person with lymphoma feel weaker. The weakness may also be caused by anemia if the lymphoma is occupying the bone marrow where red blood cells are produced. 

Breathlessness along with swelling of the face and neck

Rarely, when a lymphoma in the neck or chest grows very large, it may block the flow of some vessels and lead to a swelling of the face and neck along with a feeling of breathlessness.

As lymphomas can occur in any organ, may give rise to some unusual symptoms as well. A lymphoma in the stomach can cause pain in the abdomen, and a lymphoma in the brain can cause headaches or leg weakness.

If you experience several of these symptoms or feel at all concerned that you might have lymphoma, see your doctor. Only a medical professional can properly diagnose the cause of your symptoms.

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