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Signs and Symptoms

A person who has signs or symptoms that suggest the possibility of non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL) is usually referred to a blood cancer specialist called a hematologist-oncologist. The doctor will order additional tests and a tissue biopsy to make a diagnosis. The signs and symptoms of NHL are also associated with a number of other, less serious diseases.

The most common early sign of NHL is painless swelling of one or more lymph node(s). 

  • Most patients with NHL have one or more enlarged lymph nodes in the neck, armpit or groin.
  • Less often, a swollen node appears near the ears, the elbow or in the throat near the tonsils.

Occasionally, the disease starts in a site other than the lymph nodes, such as a bone, a lung, the gastrointestinal tract or the skin. In these circumstances, patients may experience symptoms that are associated with that specific site.

Common symptoms of NHL include

  • Painless swelling in one or more lymph node(s)
  • Unexplained fever
  • Drenching night sweats
  • Persistent fatigue
  • Loss of appetite
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Cough or chest pain
  • Abdominal pain
  • Sensation of bloating or fullness (due to an enlarged spleen)
  • Itchy skin
  • Enlargement of the spleen or liver
  • Rashes or skin lumps.

Some people have no symptoms and the disease may only be discovered during a routine medical examination or while the patient is under care for an unrelated condition.

B Symptoms

The term “B symptoms” is used to refer to fever, drenching night sweats and loss of more than 10 percent of body weight over 6 months. B symptoms are significant to the prognosis and staging of the disease. Other NHL symptoms, such as itching and fatigue, do not have the same prognostic importance as B symptoms and are not considered to be B symptoms.


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