What Are the Warning Signs of Lymphoma?

Medically Reviewed on 4/20/2022

11 Early signs of lymphoma

Lymphoma typically manifests as a painless lump or mass in the lymph nodes, usually in the neck, armpit, or groin.

Early lymphoma symptoms can be minor or mimic common illnesses.

  • Lymphoma typically manifests as a painless lump or mass in the lymph nodes, usually in the neck, armpit, or groin.
  • A physician should examine any painless, firm lumps or masses on your neck, armpit, or groin.

11 Early signs of lymphoma

Here are 11 early signs of lymphoma:

  1. Swollen lymph nodes:
    • Lymph nodes in the neck, groin, and armpit of people with lymphoma may enlarge due to an abundance of cancerous cells.
    • The spleen may enlarge for the same reason (may be felt as fullness or mass in the left upper abdomen).
    • Nodes that swell due to lymphoma are usually not as painful as nodes that swell due to an infection.
  2. Fever and/or chills:
    • Fever is another sign that your immune system is being activated due to lymphoma.
    • This mechanism can be triggered by your body's need to fight infection, or it can be triggered by cancer such as lymphoma.
    • If you have a fever for no apparent reason, notify your doctor so that they can investigate and determine the root cause.
  3. Night sweats:
    • According to researchers, some people with lymphoma have night sweats. This symptom indicates that you may have a nighttime fever or other issues regulating your body temperature.
  4. Swelling of the abdomen:
  5. Loss of appetite:
    • Another possible sign of lymphoma is not feeling hungry or becoming full quickly. Some people experience nausea, vomiting, or abdominal pain.
    • According to the American Cancer Society, the reason is related to the spleen. It can press on your stomach and cause discomfort if it has become enlarged with cancerous lymphocytes.
  6. Persistent, overwhelming fatigue:
    • Feeling extremely tired all the time is another possible lymphoma symptom.
    • The Lymphoma Research Foundation notes that for people with lymphoma, exhaustion is frequently caused by anemia or a lack of red blood cells that carry oxygen throughout your body.
    • Because people with lymphoma overproduce cancerous lymphocytes, there is less room in the bone marrow to produce other healthy cells such as red blood cells.
  7. Easy bruising or bleeding:
    • This is another issue related to a lack of healthy blood cell production.
    • According to research, people with lymphoma may not produce enough platelets, which aid in blood clotting.
    • Consider it a possible warning sign if you're getting black-and-blue more easily than usual, or if you're having trouble stopping the bleeding whenever you nick yourself.
  8. Coughing, chest pressure, or shortness of breath:
    • Lymphomas can sometimes begin in the thymus gland, which is another part of your immune system located in your chest.
    • According to the American Cancer Society, if this gland or other lymph nodes in your chest swell, they may press on the trachea, causing coughing, chest pain, or chest pressure.
  9. Unexplained weight loss:
    • Losing a significant amount of weight (about 10 to 15 percent of your initial body weight or more over six months) without making any changes to your usual eating and exercise patterns is a red flag that something is wrong.
    • According to the American Cancer Society, this occurs occasionally because cancer cells, which grow much faster than normal cells, consume far more energy (calories) than healthy cells.
  10. Itchy skin:
    • If you've recently developed unusual itching, particularly in your hands, legs, or feet, it could be due to lymphoma. Some people with lymphoma develop a visible rash, but this is not always the case.
    • According to experts, constant itchiness is caused by the immune system releasing cytokines (chemicals) that can irritate nerve endings in the skin.
  11. Severe or frequent infections:
    • Low white blood cell counts, which make people more susceptible to infections, are frequently a symptom of lymphoma. According to the research, this could indicate that the cancer is spreading faster.

5 Advanced lymphoma symptoms

5 Advanced lymphoma symptoms include:
  • After consuming alcohol, some people may experience pain in their lymph nodes.
  • If the lymphoma affects the lymphatic tissue in the abdomen, bowel, or stomach, fluid may accumulate, causing swelling near the intestines and potentially causing abdominal pressure, pain, diarrhea, and/or indigestion.
  • When an enlarged lymph node presses against a vein (causing swelling in an arm or leg) or a nerve, it can cause other symptoms (causing pain, numbness, or tingling in an arm or leg).
  • Some people have unexplained lower back pain. This is thought to be due to expanding lymph nodes pressing on nerves.
  • The body's ability to fight infection deteriorates as lymphomas progress and cancerous lymphocytes spread beyond the lymphatic system. The onset of generalized symptoms may be confused with symptoms of influenza, tuberculosis, other infections such as infectious mononucleosis, or other types of cancer.

Because lymphoma symptoms differ from person to person, not everyone has the same problems.

People should be aware that many symptoms associated with lymphoma can be ambiguous or caused by unrelated illnesses. It’s a good idea to be aware of the possible lymphoma symptoms and to notify your doctor if you experience any of them.


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What are the two types of lymphoma? What are the causes?

Lymphoma is cancer that begins in the cells of the lymphatic system.

  • Lymphoma is the seventh most common cancer in the United States.
  • Lymphomas are among the most diverse and curable of all types of cancer.

They are divided into two types: Hodgkin’s and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

  1. Hodgkin’s lymphoma:
    • Hodgkin’s lymphoma develops when white blood cells called B lymphocytes become abnormal and begin growing and dividing uncontrollably.
    • Reed-Sternberg cells (large cells with more than one nucleus that resemble owl's eyes) are a type of Hodgkin’s lymphoma cell.
  2. Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma: Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma develops when B or T lymphocytes become abnormal. Most of the time, B cells are faulty. Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma is more common than Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Non-Hodgkin’s lymphomas are classified based on how they behave in the body.
    • Indolent (low grade) cancer grows slowly over time. It is classified as chronic because it is treatable but not generally curable because it recurs even after successful treatment.
    • Aggressive (intermediate grade) lymphomas grow rapidly over months and are treatable and potentially curable.
    • Highly aggressive (high-grade) lymphomas develop quickly within weeks and are extremely curable, particularly with chemotherapy.

Lymphoma causes

Doctors do not know what causes most lymphomas, and there is little that can be done to avoid being diagnosed.

Most people are likely to develop lymphoma due to a combination of these factors:

  • Immune system issues such as human immunodeficiency virus/acquired immunodeficiency syndrome and other autoimmune diseases, as well as being on immune-suppressing medication, are the most well-known risk factors for lymphoma.
  • Most types of cancer, including lymphoma, are more common as people get older.
  • Men are more likely to be diagnosed than women.
  • Caucasians are more likely to develop lymphoma.
  • Chemotherapy and radiation therapy used to treat cancer can increase the risk.
  • Infections such as the Epstein-Barr virus, human T cell leukemia virus type I, and human herpes virus-8 increase the risk of certain lymphoma subtypes.
  • Other infections including chlamydia, Helicobacter pylori, and hepatitis C are linked.
  • A family history of lymphoma can slightly increase the risk of certain lymphomas.
  • Chemicals, pesticides, and other toxins may all be linked to the development of lymphoma.
  • Obesity or being overweight has been linked to the development of several types of cancer, including lymphoma in some studies.

Can lymphoma be completely cured?

Lymphomas are considered a treatable type of cancer if caught early.

  • Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma has a five-year survival rate of 62 percent, whereas Hodgkin’s lymphoma has a five-year survival rate of 92 percent if detected early.

4 Lymphoma stages

Staging is critical in determining the type of treatment you will require:

  1. Stage I:
    • Cancer is discovered in one lymph node area or one area or organ other than the lymph nodes.
  2. Stage II:
    • Cancer is discovered in two or more lymph node areas or in one area or organ other than the lymph nodes on the same side of the diaphragm (the sheet of muscle slung beneath the lungs that enable breathing).
  3. Stage III:
    • Cancer has been discovered in lymph node areas on both sides of the diaphragm.
  4. Stage IV:
    • Cancer has spread to one or more organs other than the lymphatic system such as the spleen, liver, or skin.

Lymphoma treatment options

Treatment options for lymphoma may include:

  • Wait and watch:
    • When first diagnosed, some types of slow-growing lymphomas may not require active treatment. Regular checkups will be required.
  • Chemotherapy:
    • Anticancer medication is administered in the form of tablets or injections.
  • Radiotherapy:
    • Cancer cells are targeted and killed using X-rays. This is used to treat adults with lymphoma, but it is rarely used to treat children with lymphoma.
  • Steroids:
    • Tablets or injections can help your chemotherapy work better.
  • Immunotherapy (biological therapy, monoclonal antibodies):
    • This includes medications that enable your immune system to fight cancer cells. It is usually used in conjunction with chemotherapy.
    • Certain medications such as Rituxan (rituximab) and Gazyva (obinutuzumab) boost the immune system's ability to fight cancer cells.
    • Certain drugs, such as Velcade (bortezomib), inhibit lymphoma cell growth.
    • Several more antibody treatments are currently being tested in clinical trials and more are being developed.
  • Stem cell (or bone marrow) transplantation:
    • Stem cells are the cells from which blood cells develop. Because high doses of chemotherapy can harm stem cells, stem cells are removed from the bone marrow before higher doses of chemotherapy are administered.
    • After the chemotherapy is finished, they are transplanted back. This is referred to as an autologous stem cell transplant. If the disease recurs or does not respond to the first treatment, this option may be considered.
    • It is sometimes necessary to receive stem cells from a relative or a donor who is unrelated to you but has matching bone marrow. This type of transplant, known as an allogeneic stem cell transplant, is sometimes used if your lymphoma returns after a transplant using your stem cells.
    • Allogeneic transplants have more complications and side effects, and this treatment is not appropriate for everyone.
  • Surgery:
    • It may be preferable if lymphomas are limited to a site such as a spleen or a stomach and have not spread elsewhere.
  • Complementary and alternative therapies:
    • Some of these therapies, when used in conjunction with conventional cancer treatment, can make you feel better and improve your quality of life. Others may not be as beneficial and, in some cases, may even be harmful. 

Every treatment has side effects. These will differ according to the type of treatment you are receiving. Many of the side effects are transient, but some may be permanent. Before your treatment begins, your doctor will go over all the potential side effects with you.

In some studies, maintaining a healthy weight and diet has been shown to reduce the risk of lymphoma. Eating a diet rich in fruits and vegetables has been linked to a significantly lower risk of lymphoma, and as with many types of cancer, being physically active, and avoiding processed foods may help.

Medically Reviewed on 4/20/2022
Image Source: iStock Images

Lymphoma: https://www.cedars-sinai.org/health-library/diseases-and-conditions/l/lymphoma.html

What Does Lymphoma Feel Like? https://moffitt.org/cancers/lymphomas-hodgkin-and-non-hodgkin/faqs/what-does-lymphoma-feel-like

Lymphoma: https://www.cancer.org.au/cancer-information/types-of-cancer/lymphoma

Lymphoma Symptoms: https://healthtalk.org/lymphoma/symptoms

Lymphoma: https://www.medstarhealth.org/services/lymphoma