How to Know If You Have Lymphoma


Lymphoma is a group of blood cancers that affect white cells known as lymphocytes. Lymphocytes circulate in the lymph system and help to control infection. Lymphoma occurs when lymphocytes undergo a malignant transformation, causing them to grow uncontrollably. The causes of lymphoma are unknown. There are two types of lymphoma: Hodgkin lymphoma or Hodgkin's disease, which represents 11 percent of cases, and non-Hodgkin lymphoma, which represents 89 percent of cases. Approximately 65,000 people are diagnosed with lymphoma annually, and 55 percent of them are men. It is important to report suspicious symptoms promptly, because lymphoma is more curable if it is diagnosed early.

  • Familiarize yourself with the different parts of the lymph system because lymphoma can occur anywhere within the system. The lymph system consists of lymph nodes (bean-sized glands found throughout the body) and other tissues such as the spleen (a blood reservoir located under the rib cage and left of the abdomen), bone marrow, tonsils and adenoids, brain, thymus gland (found at the top of the breast bone) and the digestive system, as well as the central nervous system, skin and other organs.

  • Learn the most common symptoms of lymphoma. These include enlarged or painful lymph nodes (swollen glands) in the neck, armpits or groin. If the swelling persists, see your doctor.

  • Note non-specific symptoms such as:
    • Unexplained weight loss
    • Fever
    • Weakness or lack of energy
    • Chills
    • Drenching night sweats
    Discuss these symptoms with your doctor, particularly if they don't go away or get worse.

  • Talk to your doctor if you have a swollen, painful or tender abdomen or a feeling of fullness. Tell him if these symptoms are accompanied by nausea or vomiting.

  • Visit your doctor if you have persistent coughing or trouble breathing. These symptoms can be due to a variety of conditions, but you need to bring them to your doctor's attention.

  • Schedule a checkup if you have any neurological symptoms such as headache, trouble thinking, weakness in certain parts of the body, personality changes or seizures.

  • Check your skin and tell your doctor if you have extremely itchy, red or purple lumps or nodules under the skin, or if you have a tendency to bleed easily.

Tips & Warnings

  • Biopsy, or removal of a piece of tissue for laboratory analysis, is the only way to diagnose lymphoma. The overall cure rate for lymphoma is 75 percent.
  • For more information about lymphoma, contact The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society at (800) 955-4572 or log on to

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