The symptoms of lymphoma are commonly seen in other, less serious illnesses, such as influenza or other viral infection. 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 symptoms of lymphoma
There are over 80 different types of lymphoma. Lymphomas can be slow growing and can develop over many months to years before experiencing symptoms. Some symptoms may also develop over a short period of time, days to weeks. Some people may not have any symptoms and are diagnosed accidentally when having a scan for another medical condition.
There are many symptoms that can be associated with lymphoma. Lymphomas can start almost anywhere in the body. The symptom can depend on the type of lymphoma and where it is in the body.
Because symptoms of lymphoma can often be vague or general, it can sometimes be difficult to diagnose.
The most common symptoms of lymphoma are:
Swollen lymph nodes
Swollen lymph nodes caused by infection are usually painful and disappear within two to three weeks. Sometimes when you have a virus they may hang around for longer.
Swollen lymph glands caused by lymphoma are commonly found in the neck, groin and armpit. Lymph nodes can be affected almost anywhere in the body, but you may not always feel them in some places until it causes other symptoms. They are usually smooth, round, mobile (move away) and have a rubbery texture. They are usually painless but can cause pain if pushing on tissue in nearby areas.
Swollen lymph nodes in lymphoma are caused by a build-up of cancerous cells in the lymph nodes. Not all lymphomas cause swollen lymph nodes.
Fatigue is an overwhelming exhaustion for no obvious reason. It is not relieved by rest or sleep. It often affects simple tasks such as getting dressed. The cause of fatigue is not known but could possibly be due to cancer cells using energy to grow and divide. Fatigue can be caused by other reasons too and lymphoma may be a part of this.
Unexplained weight loss
This means losing weight over a short period of time without trying. People are advised to see a GP if they lose more than 5 percent of their normal body weight over 6 months. Weight loss happens because cancerous cells use up your energy resources. Your body also uses up extra energy to try and get rid of the cancerous cell.
It is normal to sweat in the night if your room or bedding is making you too hot. However, night sweats related to lymphoma are usually drenching. You may sweat so much that you need to change your night clothes and bed linen.
Doctors do not know exactly what causes night sweats. It could possibly be your body’s natural reaction to your temperature rising above normal. It could also be due to chemicals being produced by the lymphoma cells.
Unexplained persistent fevers
Fever is the rise in your body temperature above the normal level. Any temperature above 37.5 degrees Celsius is considered abnormal. These fevers may come and go over several days or weeks without an infection.
Lymphoma causes fevers because the lymphoma cells produce chemicals that raise your body temperature. These fevers usually are usually mild and can come and go.
Difficulty getting over infections
White blood cells usually fight infections. In lymphoma the cancerous white blood cells are produced instead of the healthy white blood cells. These cancerous white blood cells are not working well and not be able to fight infection properly. This makes you more susceptible to infection and your infections may last longer.
Having itchy skin can affect those with both Hodgkin lymphoma and non-Hodgkin lymphoma patients. It can affect areas of skin near the lymph nodes that are affected by lymphoma including patches of skin lymphoma and over the whole body.
It is thought itchiness occurs due to chemicals released by your immune system, as part of its reaction against the lymphoma cells. These chemicals irritate the nerves in your skin and make it itch.
Local or systemic symptoms of lymphoma
Some symptoms affect the area in and around the lymphoma itself. These are called local symptoms of lymphoma. The most common local symptom is a swollen lymph node or nodes. These lymph nodes then may press on other tissues around the lymphoma itself. Symptoms you may get depend on where the lymphoma is located.
You may experience:
Chest symptomsSwollen lymph nodes in the chest may press on your airways, lungs, and blood vessels. Some of the symptoms you may experience are a dry cough, shortness of breath, pressure, or pain in the chest. Symptoms may be worse when lying down.
Abdominal symptomsLymphoma can develop in the lymph nodes in the abdomen or lymphatic tissue in your spleen, stomach or liver.
- You may experience pain on the left side behind your ribs, bloating and a feeling of being full after eating a small amount of food. This may be due to an enlarged spleen.
- If you have a swollen tummy, yellow tinge in the whites of your eyes and on your skin, this may suggest that the lymphoma is affecting your liver. You may also get a build-up of fluid in the abdomen. Lymphoma in the stomach may cause gastritis (inflammation of stomach lining) which may result in nausea, vomiting and pain.
- Lymphoma in the bowel may result in pain, diarrhoea, or constipation.
Skin symptomsIf you have skin lymphoma you might get symptoms on the skin such as red flat patches, raised plaques or lumps. Some people may be misdiagnosed with having psoriasis.
Brain and nerve symptomsSymptoms could include headaches, seizures(fits), memory problems, confusion, drowsiness, dizziness, problems with vision and tingling or weakness in a limb.
Swelling in the arms or legsSwollen lymph nodes can sometimes block the lymphatic vessels. This stops the lymph draining properly from the body’s tissues. This build up is called lymphoedema. This may cause swelling and feelings of tightness, heaviness, or soreness.
AnaemiaAnaemia is the low number of red blood cells. Anaemia may be caused by lymphoma in the bone marrow or by bleeding if the lymphoma is in the gut. Anaemia may result in shortness of breath, fatigue, and palpitations.
What are B symptoms?
B symptoms are what doctors call certain symptoms. These symptoms are often talked about when lymphoma is being staged. Staging is the period before treatment starts where scans and tests are done to work out where the lymphoma is in your body. The symptoms that are called B symptoms include:
- Night sweats (drenching sleepwear and bedding)
- Persistent fevers
- Unexplained weight loss
Doctors will consider these symptoms when they are planning your treatment.
What should I do if I have symptoms of lymphoma?
It is important to understand that all the above symptoms may be caused by many other less serious conditions. If you have any concerns, please contact your GP or specialist. They can do a physical examination and take a medical history to decide whether further tests are needed.