Consuming alcohol in excess can make your body feel bad, but pain in specific areas after enjoying a drink could be a reaction between alcohol and lymphoma.

“Lymphoma” is a general term for cancers that originate in the lymphatic system, a network of organs, vessels, and tissues that help move fluid and immune cells throughout your body.

Lymphoma has two primary forms: Hodgkin’s lymphoma (HL) and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma (NHL). The main difference between the two has to do with the presence of Reed-Sternberg cells, an abnormal type of lymphocytes found specifically in HL.

But cell type is not the only difference between HL and NHL. If you have HL, you may have a hypersensitivity to alcohol, which can make lymphoma pain worse.

Medical experts do not fully understand exactly why alcohol can make lymphoma pain worse.

Alcohol’s ability to increase pain in HL has been an accepted scientific consensus since the 1950s. But because cases are rare, large-scale studies on the phenomenon are limited. What’s known is based on individual case studies, and those are few and far between.

Researchers believe alcohol-related lymphoma pain is caused by swelling in lymph nodes or disease-affected tissue as a result of blood vessel dilation after alcohol consumption.

A 2013 case study reported that ibuprofen could relieve alcohol-induced pain. This could indicate underlying prostaglandin factors.

Prostaglandins are hormone-like substances that respond to injury in your body by creating an inflammatory response. Research indicates alcohol can affect prostaglandin synthesis and promote inflammation.

This suggests that the combination of blood vessel dilation and an increased inflammatory response is a big part of alcohol-related lymphoma pain.

Not everyone living with HL will have a reaction to drinking alcohol. This is part of the mystery behind alcohol-related lymphoma pain.

Early investigations into alcohol-related lymphoma pain suggested that it happens more often in females and those with nodular sclerosis HL, though updated data is necessary to confirm these findings.

Does alcohol cause lymphoma pain in all types of lymphoma?

Alcohol-related lymphoma pain is primarily associated with HL, though the reasons for this are unknown.

But this does not mean that alcohol-related pain can’t happen in other types of lymphoma.

A 2020 case study documented alcohol-related pain in a 30-year-old man living with B-cell lymphoblastic lymphoma, an NHL subtype often seen in children. Though the research is slim, alcohol seems likely to cause pain in all lymphoma types.

Case studies indicate that alcohol-induced lymphoma pain occurs in regions where the lymphoma is already present. In rare cases, alcohol-induced pain may be a symptom of undiagnosed lymphoma.

For example, HL is most likely to develop above your diaphragm, which means your pain could be focused in places such as your chest, shoulder, neck, or armpit.

The pain can range from sharp and stabbing to dull and achy, but it occurs within minutes of consuming alcohol. You may also experience a general feeling of sickness, fever, or sweating.

Overall, any symptoms you’re already experiencing are likely to get worse.

A case study from 2019 noted that alcohol-induced lymphoma pain made existing symptoms of back pain increase. For the person in the study, this meant radiating back pain through his groin and down into his left leg.

Can other substances worsen lymphoma pain?

Alcohol may not be the only substance that makes lymphoma pain worse. In an older article from 2012, researchers reported a reaction in a woman who received the anesthesia product propofol.

They believe her lymphoma pain increased because propofol has a similar effect to alcohol on vasodilation.

If alcohol-related lymphoma pain has underlying inflammatory and circulatory mechanisms, it’s possible for other substances to cause similar reactions in your body. Your doctor can provide guidance if you notice that your lymphoma pain gets worse after you use or ingest certain substances.

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There is some evidence that taking ibuprofen can help relieve lymphoma pain that results from alcohol consumption, but no current medical guidelines for this exist.

It is important to discuss pain management options with your doctor to avoid any possible adverse reactions with other medications you might be taking.

Alcohol’s relationship with cancer is complex.

In general, alcohol consumption is associated with an elevated risk of many types of cancer. Drinking alcohol more often or in larger amounts appears to intensify the risk.

However, alcohol consumption does not seem to be a significant risk factor for lymphoma.

In fact, a research review from 2018 found no association between alcohol consumption and risk of HL or leukemia and a decreased risk of two lymphoma subtypes: diffuse large B-cell lymphoma and follicular lymphoma.

But that does not mean you should start drinking alcohol to prevent cancer. According to the National Cancer Institute, the risks of alcohol consumption far outweigh any potential health benefits.

Getting support to quit drinking alcohol

It’s not always easy to quit drinking alcohol. Alcohol can create a state of dependency and is often a big part of social interactions and cultural behaviors.

Understanding your relationship with alcohol is the first step toward quitting. If it sounds overwhelming to do this on your own, help is available.

For resources and tips to help you quit drinking, you can visit:

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Alcohol and lymphoma can be a painful mix, particularly if you’re living with Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

Not everyone with HL will experience increased pain after consuming alcohol — females and those with nodular sclerosis HL may be the most affected.

Your doctor can help you determine whether your alcohol-induced pain is related to lymphoma and what medications you can use to help manage the symptoms.