Cancers and Tumors

Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma Symptoms and Diagnosis

Symptoms of Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma

The symptoms of non-Hodgkin lymphoma can be caused by other health problems that are not cancer.

These are possible symptoms of the disease:

  • Shortness of breath, breathing trouble, wheezing or high-pitched breathing, caused by an enlarged thymus or lymph nodes in the chest
  • Swelling in the head, neck, upper arms or chest, caused by lymphoma pressing on the major vein that drains blood from these areas
  • Trouble swallowing
  • Swollen lymph nodes in the neck, underarm, chest, abdomen, pelvis or groin
  • Unexplained fever, weight loss or night sweats - sometimes called B symptoms

The symptoms of non-Hodgkin lymphoma can be caused by other health problems that are not cancer. So it's important for a child with symptoms like these to see a doctor to find out the cause.

Symptoms can appear very quickly, sometimes just days or weeks before diagnosis. Some types of non-Hodgkin lymphoma can appear slowly over several months.

Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma Diagnosis

To find out whether your child has non-Hodgkin lymphoma, your child's doctor will start with an exam to look for signs of the disease. The doctor will also ask about your child's health background.

If the doctor thinks that your child may have lymphoma, she will likely perform a biopsy to confirm the diagnosis. This may mean taking out part or all of a lymph node or some tissue by surgery.

Another method is to take a sample of fluid or tissue using a needle, called a needle biopsy or fine-needle aspiration.

Doctors may do this type of biopsy to check the bone marrow or the fluid around the lungs (pleural fluid) or the fluid in the membrane around the organs of the abdomen (peritoneal fluid). In most cases, this is not enough to diagnose the disease in children.

Your child's doctor may also want your child to have pictures taken of the inside of her body, such as a chest X-ray, CT (computed tomography) scan, gallium scan or PET (positron emission tomography) scan.

These are called imaging studies, and they allow the doctor to look for enlarged lymph nodes, tumors or places where cancer is active.

Your child's doctor may do further tests to detect whether the cancer has spread around the lymph system or to other parts of the body. This helps the doctor tell the stage of your child's cancer, which will be important when it is time to make choices about your child's treatment. The tests may include these or others:

  • A complete blood count, or CBC, to tell how many cells of each type are moving through the bloodstream
  • A blood chemistry analysis to look for chemicals in the blood that are signs of disease in certain organs or tissues
  • A lumbar puncture, or spinal tap, to remove cerebrospinal fluid from the spinal column and check it for cancer cells
  • A bone marrow test to see if the disease has spread to the bone marrow