Causes and Treatment of Hodgkin Lymphoma Itching

Itching is one of the peculiar symptoms of Hodgkin lymphoma. About 10 to 25% of individuals suffering from Hodgkin disease suffer from an intense itch. In some, the itching starts before the diagnosis of lymphoma is made. It is often felt as a burning sensation occurring on a particular area of skin, frequently on the lower legs.

Woman scratching her legs


The cause of this itch is not definitely known. It is believed that some blood cells release chemicals near the nerves of the skin and irritates these nerves. We feel this as an itch.

Does an itch mean that the cancer is in your skin? Non-specific skin symptoms or other skin involvement in Hodgkin lymphoma are reported to occur in 15 to 50% of people with the disease. Of these, a small minority may actually have Hodgkin lymphoma of the skin or cutaneous Hodgkin lymphoma. It's possible there are multiple sources of itchiness in people with Hodgkin lymphoma pruritis. Several theories have been developed, but the precise cause is still unknown.

Association With Blood Cancers

Hodgkin itch is known medically as “paraneoplastic pruritus,” and it occurs in other blood cancers as well, but Hodgkin lymphoma seems to produce this symptom in a greater percentage of patients and itchiness has been recognized as a symptom for some time. Hodgkin itch can develop weeks and even months before other clinical signs of lymphoma.

Itching can be extremely severe and has a negative impact on a person’s quality of life.


Itching in Hodgkin disease has more importance than just being an uncommon symptom. It may be an indicator of a less favorable prognosis when associated with significant fever or weight loss, the so-called B symptoms of lymphoma.


There have not been many large studies to investigate which treatments might be effective for this particular kind of itching in Hodgkin lymphoma, but there are some data to help guide therapeutic decision making. According to an article in the 2014 Journal of Medical Case Reports, one drug that appears to be effective is Emend (aprepitant,) a neurokinin-1 receptor antagonist, however, future controlled trials would help to clarify the role of this drug as an anti-pruritic for lymphoma. Emend is most often used to help prevent nausea and vomiting due to chemotherapy.

A variety of different medications and interventions have been proposed as potentially useful; some have been found to be effective for itchiness in certain types of lymphoma, but not others. These include drugs from the antidepressant family, sedating antihistamines, oral steroids, light therapy for cutaneous T-cell lymphoma, thalidomide, and others. 


While there have not been any controlled studies done to date, mind/body therapies that are used in an integrative way to help people cope with the symptoms of cancer treatment (such as massage therapy, meditation, or acupuncture) may be of some benefit. Talk with your oncologist to find out what has worked for other people with Hodgkin disease. It may be helpful to join an online support community of other people who are similarly coping with the Hodgkin itch for ideas, as well as to feel the support that can come from knowing you aren't alone in your experience.

For Caregivers and Loved Ones

Last but definitely not least, if it is your loved one coping with the Hodgkin itch, realize that the itch is real, and can be severe. Worse for the one living with the cancer itch than itching, is finding that others don't believe what they are experiencing, or don't understand how annoying it can be.

Be patient when your loved one is itching. Most of us are not as kind—and can be nasty—when we aren't feeling well, and can say things we otherwise wouldn't. Try to step back and picture it as the itch talking, and not your loved one. Social media is also a good place for caregivers to connect with other caregivers who are going through the same issues.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Where do you itch with Hodgkin lymphoma?

    People with Hodgkin lymphoma can experience an itch primarily on the legs or across their entire body. When itchiness is felt across the body, it can be persistent.

  • What are other symptoms of Hodgkin lymphoma besides itching?

    Other symptoms of Hodgkin lymphoma besides itching include fever, a persistent cough, shortness of breath, unintended weight loss, and night sweats. Most commonly, there is swelling in the armpit, neck, or groin area. If you experience these symptoms, it may be a good idea to check in with a healthcare provider.

5 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Yosipovitch G. Chronic pruritus: a paraneoplastic sign. Dermatol Ther. 2010;23:590–596. doi:10.1111/j.1529-8019.2010.01366.x

  2. Wang H, Yosipovitch G. New Insights into the pathophysiology of chronic itch in patients with end stage renal failure, chronic liver disease and lymphoma. Int J Dermatol. 2010;49:1–12. doi:10.1111/j.1365-4632.2009.04249.x

  3. Vrotsos E, Dosal J, Zaiac M, Alexis J. Pityriasis rosea-like cutaneous eruption as the presenting symptom of Hodgkin lymphoma. Case report and review of the literature. Journal of Dermatological Case Reports. 2015;9(3):81-84. doi:10.3315/jdcr.2015.1212

  4. Arenas Villafranca JJ, Siles MG, Casanova M, et al. Paraneoplastic pruritus presenting with Hodgkin’s lymphoma: a case report. J Med Case Rep. 2014;8:300. doi:10.1186/1752-1947-8-300

  5. National Health Service (NHS). Hodgkin Lymphoma.

Additional Reading

By Indranil Mallick, MD
 Indranil Mallick, MD, DNB, is a radiation oncologist with a special interest in lymphoma.