Lymphoma is relatively easy to diagnose, yet it often escapes detection in the early stages. Early symptoms may be either nonexistent or fairly mild and non-specific. For instance, many of the most common symptoms—fatigue, night sweats, unexplained weight loss, fever, chills, and itching—are easily overlooked or ignored by patients. Often, the first inkling of illness involves the discovery of a lump at the site of an affected lymph node. Lumps may be tender or even painful to the touch, but in some cases they are not. Non-Hodgkin lymphomas are more likely to feature non-tender swellings.
The lymph nodes are widely distributed throughout the body. Some are deep, while others are fairly close to the surface. Swellings in more superficial locations, such as the armpits, under the jaw, or in the groin, are perhaps more noticeable. A lump at one of these sites does not necessarily indicate lymphoma, however. Just as fever, itching or unexplained weight loss may be associated with any number of other conditions, swelling of the lymph nodes is not unique to lymphoma. Infections often cause swelling, as white blood cells (lymphocytes) flood the nodes in response to infection. Swelling in the nodes of the neck is frequently linked to sinus infections, for example. Swellings in the nodes of the armpits or abdomen, however, probably warrant more immediate attention, as these sites are less likely to be related to temporary infections.
Fatigue, low energy, or listlessness may signal lymphoma. Of course, low energy may also be a sign of nothing more than insufficient sleep or poor diet. When persistent fatigue is accompanied by other lymphoma symptoms, it’s best to consult a physician.
Fever is a relatively common, natural response to infection. Chills often accompany fever. Night sweats are usually associated with fever that occurs during sleep. When fever happens for no apparent reason or comes and goes repeatedly, it may indicate lymphoma and should prompt a visit to the physician.
Unexplained Weight Loss
Sudden weight loss of 10 percent or more of body weight, which is unrelated to changes in diet or activity levels, may signal lymphoma. However, like other lymphoma symptoms, unexpected weight loss may be due to other medical conditions. Nevertheless, sudden and unexplained weight loss warrants consultation with a healthcare professional.
Lymphoma affecting lymphatic structures beneath the skin may cause an itchy rash. This may appear as a discolored (reddish or purple) scaly area and is easily confused with other conditions, such as eczema. This type of lymphoma may expand as it progresses and often occurs in skin folds.
Chest Pain/Lower Back Pain
The thymus is a small two-lobed immune system organ that straddles the lungs. Occasionally lymphoma affects the thymus gland, causing chest pain. Rarely, lymphoma affects lymph nodes located in the lower back. Swelling may exert pressure on the nerves of the spinal cord, causing discomfort, but of course there are many other causes of lower back pain.