What Are the Symptoms of Non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma?

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Non-Hodgkin's lymphoma is cancer that originates in your lymphatic system, the disease-fighting network spread throughout your body. In non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, tumors develop from lymphocytes—a type of white blood cell.

Non-Hodgkin's lymphoma is more common than the other general type of lymphoma—Hodgkin's lymphoma. Many different subtypes of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma exist. The most common non-Hodgkin's lymphoma subtypes include diffuse large B-cell lymphoma and follicular lymphoma.


The most common symptom of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma is a mass or swelling of the lymph nodes of the neck, collarbone, groin, and armpit. If you find swelling in one of these areas, you must be examined by a physician. Many times, especially in children, swollen lymph nodes can be caused by infection and decrease in size or disappear within a few weeks. However, it is highly recommended that any swelling is evaluated by a physician.

If lymphatic tissue in the abdomen is affected, pressure or pain may be felt in the abdomen. This is due to fluid build-up caused by the swelling of the tissue. The belly may take on a pregnant appearance or bloat. The swelling and build up fluid sometimes cause a blockage around the intestines, making the passage of feces difficult.

Depending on the area of the body affected, the symptoms of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma vary. If lymphatic tissue in the thymus (large bland by the heart), chest pain may be felt.

Coughing, respiratory difficulties in general, and shortness of breath can all be experienced if the tissue is affected in the chest cavity. This puts pressure on the trachea at times causing the symptoms.

Other symptoms of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma include:

Keep in mind that these symptoms may be signs for many other illnesses. It is important to be evaluated by a physician if you are experiencing anything that is abnormal for you or something you feel uncomfortable with, mentally or physically.

Risk Factors

In most cases, people diagnosed with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma don't have any obvious risk factors, and many people who have risk factors for the disease never develop it. Some factors that may increase the risk of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma include:

  • Medications that suppress your immune system. If you've had an organ transplant, you're more susceptible because immunosuppressive therapy has reduced your body's ability to fight off new illnesses.
  • Infection with certain viruses and bacteria. Certain viral and bacterial infections appear to increase the risk of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. Viruses linked to increased non-Hodgkin's lymphoma risk include HIV and Epstein-Barr virus. Bacteria linked to an increased risk of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma include the ulcer-causing Helicobacter pylori.
  • Chemicals. Certain chemicals, such as those used to kill insects and weeds, may increase your risk of developing non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. More research is needed to understand the possible link between pesticides and the development of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma.
  • Older age. Non-Hodgkin's lymphoma can occur at any age, but the risk increases with age. It's most common in people in their 60s or older.
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