Symptoms of non-Hodgkin lymphoma

The signs or symptoms of non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL) may vary depending on the type of NHL, where it starts in the body and how advanced it is. Other health conditions can cause the same symptoms as NHL.

The most common symptom of NHL is swollen, or enlarged, lymph nodes in the neck, armpit or groin. The swollen lymph nodes are usually painless, but they can eventually put pressure on tissue or organs around them and cause discomfort or pain.

Other common symptoms of NHL include:

  • a rash or itchy skin on the chest, stomach and back
  • unexplained fatigue

Some symptoms of NHL are generalized, which means that they affect the whole body. These are called B symptoms, or systemic symptoms. They usually include:

  • unexplained fever over 38°C that doesn’t go away
  • drenching night sweats (enough to soak bedding and night clothes)
  • unexplained weight loss of more than 10% of body weight within the last 6 months

Symptoms, by where the NHL develops

NHL can cause other signs and symptoms depending on where it starts in the body.

NHL in the chest may cause:

  • shortness of breath
  • coughing
  • feeling of pressure in the chest
  • chest pain
  • swelling and bluish-red colour on the head, arms and upper chest (caused by superior vena cava syndrome)

NHL in the abdomen may cause:

  • indigestion
  • swelling in the abdomen
  • discomfort or pain in the abdomen
  • loss of appetite
  • feeling full after eating a small amount of food
  • nausea or vomiting
  • enlarged liver or spleen

NHL in the brain and spinal cord (called the central nervous system, or CNS) may cause:

  • headaches
  • double vision
  • numbness of the face
  • trouble thinking
  • trouble speaking
  • weakness
  • personality changes
  • seizures

NHL in the bone marrow may cause bone pain in the legs, ribs, spine or pelvis. It can also cause low blood cell counts, which can lead to:

  • infections that stay or come back again and again
  • bleeding or easy bruising
  • fatigue

NHL in the skin often appears as itchy, red or purple lumps under the skin.

Expert review and references

  • American Cancer Society. Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma. 2014:
  • American Society of Clinical Oncology . Lymphoma Non-Hodgkin Overview . 2014 :
  • BC Cancer Agency (BCCA). Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma. 2014:
  • Faber EA, Vose JM, Armitage JO, Bierman PJ . Diagnosis and treatment of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma of adults. Wiernik PH, Goldman JM, Dutcher JP, Kyle RA (eds.). Neoplastic Diseases of the Blood. 5th ed. Springer; 2013: 47: 1027-1047.
  • Manson SD & Porter C . Lymphomas. Yarbro, CH, Wujcki D, & Holmes Gobel B (eds.). Cancer Nursing: Principles and Practice. 7th ed. Sudbury, MA: Jones and Bartlett; 2011: 60: pp. 1458-1512.

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