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Signs & Symptoms

There are currently no screening tests for lymphomas. The signs and symptoms of lymphoma can often be mistaken for other less serious illnesses, like the flu. Many patients delay going to the doctor because they do not realise they have cancer.

The symptoms of lymphoma are commonly seen in other less serious illnesses, such as influenza or other viral infections. These symptoms are often overlooked, but in cases of less serious illnesses they would not last very long. With lymphoma, these symptoms persist over time and cannot be explained by an infection or another disease.

Common Signs & Symptoms
  • Swelling of lymph nodes, often painless
  • Chills/temperature swings
  • Recurrent fever
  • Excessive sweating, often at night
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Loss of appetite
  • Persistent tiredness and lack of energy
  • Breathlessness and coughing
  • Persistent itch all over the body without an apparent cause or rash
  • General fatigue
  • Enlarged tonsils
  • Headache

The most common symptom is painless swelling in a lymph node. The neck or armpits are common places for this swelling to be noticed first, but swelling can occur in other parts of the body including the groin (may cause swelling in the legs or ankles) or the abdomen (may cause cramping and bloating). Some patients with lymphoma will not notice any swelling. There is usually no pain involved, especially when the lymphoma is in the early stage of development.

Most people who have nonspecific symptoms such as these will not have lymphoma. However, it is important that any person who has symptoms that persist see a doctor.

Other Symptoms
  • In certain instances, people may feel pain in the lymph nodes after drinking alcohol.
  • If the lymphoma involves lymphatic tissue within the abdomen, bowel or stomach, fluid may build up causing swelling near the intestines, potentially leading to sensations of abdominal pressure, pain, diarrhea and/or indigestion.
  • The enlarged lymph node sometimes causes other symptoms by pressing against a vein (causing swelling of an arm or leg), or against a nerve (causing pain, numbness, or tingling in an arm or leg).
  • Some people experience unexplained lower back pain, which may be caused by expanding lymph nodes pressing on nerves.

As lymphomas progress, the body loses its ability to fight infection. The generalised symptoms that develop may be confused with signs of influenza, tuberculosis, other infections such as infectious mononucleosis, or other cancers.