Symptoms of childhood non-Hodgkin lymphoma

The signs or symptoms of childhood non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL) may vary depending on the location of the cancer in the body. Other health conditions can cause the same symptoms as childhood NHL.

A child with NHL that starts in the abdomen may have pain in the abdomen, fever, constipation and loss of appetite. A child with NHL that starts in the chest may have difficulty breathing, shortness of breath, chest pain, wheezing or coughing.

The most common symptoms of childhood NHL are:

  • swelling of the lymph nodes in the neck, chest, abdomen, armpit or groin
  • swelling of the head, neck, chest, abdomen or arms
  • breathing problems
  • feeling of fullness in the abdomen or groin
  • shortness of breath, coughing or wheezing
  • fever
  • weight loss
  • sore throat or trouble swallowing
  • fatigue
  • loss of appetite
  • itchy skin

B symptoms

Sometimes NHL can cause generalized (systemic) symptoms. This group of symptoms is referred to as B symptoms. They include unexplained fever, drenching night sweats and unexplained weight loss. Unexplained fever has no obvious cause. The child’s temperature may be high for several days, or it may switch between normal and below normal for days or weeks. The night sweats are so heavy that the child’s bedding or clothes are wet and need to be changed. Unexplained weight loss means at least 10% of body weight over 6 months.

Superior vena cava syndrome

A serious symptom of NHL is superior vena cava syndrome (SVCS). SVCS is life-threatening and needs to be treated right away. It occurs when the superior vena cava (the large vein that carries blood from the head, neck, arms and chest to the heart) has a tumour pressing on it. This group of symptoms includes coughing, difficulty breathing, headache, dizziness, fainting and swelling or flushing of the neck, face and upper arms. Find out more about superior vena cava syndrome.

Expert review and references

  • American Cancer Society. Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma in Children Early Detection, Diagnosis and Staging. 2017.
  • American Society of Clinical Oncology. Lymphoma - Non-Hodgkin - Childhood. 2017.
  • Gross TG & Perkins SL . Malignant non-Hodgkin lymphomas in children. Pizzo, P. A. & Poplack, D. G. (Eds.). Principles and Practice of Pediatric Oncology. 6th ed. Philadelphia: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins; 2011: 23:pp. 663-682.
  • Johnston JM. Pediatric Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma Clinical Presentation. 2018.
  • National Cancer Institute. Childhood Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma Treatment (PDQ®) Patient Version. 2018.
  • Truong TH, Weitzman, S, Arceci RJ . Non-Hodgkin lymphoma of childhood. Wiernik PH, Goldman JM, Dutcher JP & Kyle RA (eds.). Neoplastic Diseases of the Blood. 5th ed. Springer; 2013: 48: pp. 1049-1072.
  • Woods D, McDonald, L . Non-Hodgkin lymphoma. Baggott C, Fochtman D, Foley GV & Patterson Kelly, K (eds.). Nursing Care of Children and Adolescents with Cancer. 4rd ed. APHON; 2011: 29: pp. 1023-1037.

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