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Non-Hodgkin lymphoma symptoms

The human body has more than 500 lymph nodes connected through a network of lymph vessels. The neck, armpits, groin, abdomen, pelvis and chest have clusters of lymph nodes. These bean-shaped glands produce immune cells and filter impurities from the lymphatic system and bloodstream. It is possible for non-Hodgkin lymphoma  to develop anywhere in the body where lymph nodes exist. The disease may also affect organs, such as the liver, stomach and lungs.

Because there are so many types of non-Hodgkin lymphoma that may involve different organs, signs and symptoms may vary depending on the type, location and stage of the disease. Symptoms tend to be fairly non-specific and may share similar characteristics with other illnesses, such as a cold, the flu or a respiratory infection.


cancer symptoms

Non-Hodgkin lymphoma symptoms

Common non-Hodgkin lymphoma symptoms include:

  • Fever
  • Swollen lymph nodes in the neck, underarms, groin
  • Night sweats (often soaking the sheets) and/or chills
  • Persistent fatigue, lethargy, weakness
  • Loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting
  • Rapid or unexplained weight loss
  • Abdominal pain or swelling, or a feeling of fullness
  • Skin rash or itchy skin
  • Coughing or shortness of breath
  • Headaches
  • Difficulty moving parts of the body
  • Pain in the chest, abdomen or bones for no known reason

When the lymph system detects an infection, lymph nodes produce more immune cells, which may cause them to swell. Swollen lymph nodes, a fever and night sweats may also be symptoms of the cold and flu. However, unlike the cold and flu, non-Hodgkin lymphoma symptoms typically do not go away. If you have symptoms that persist for more than two weeks, or symptoms that are recurring and becoming more intense, you should see your doctor.

Sudden and dramatic weight loss, such as losing more than 10 percent of your normal weight in less than six months, is also a sign that deserves medical attention. Sometimes, a patient’s only sign of non-Hodgkin lymphoma symptom is constant fatigue.

SVC syndrome

Lymphomas may occur anywhere in the network of lymph vessels throughout the body. Tumors or swollen lymph nodes in the chest area may squeeze the superior vena cava, a major vein feeding into the heart.

When this happens, blood from the head, arms and chest may get backed up and cause swelling, or turn the skin to a bluish-red color. This condition may become severe and require medical treatment, especially if the oxygen supply to the brain becomes restricted.

B symptoms

B symptoms are a group of general symptoms that may be indicators of an aggressive lymphoma. B lymphoma symptoms are often identified during the staging process to help determine an overall prognosis and guide treatment decisions.

The staging process generally measures the extent and spread of cancer using the Roman numerals I-IV. The staging of non-Hodgkin lymphoma is unique in that it also assigns the letters A and B to each stage. The letters refer to whether or not certain symptoms are present.

The letter B indicates that the patient is experiencing one or more of the following symptoms: drenching night sweats, fever or unexplained weight loss. If none of these symptoms have developed, then the letter A is used. B symptoms may be signs of a more advanced cancer.


Last Revised: 02/02/2018

Understanding cancer symptoms

These symptoms may be attributed to a number of conditions other than cancer. If you notice any cancer signs or symptoms, it's important to visit your doctor for an accurate diagnosis.

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