Lymphoma is a cancer that starts in the lymphatic system, a series of nodes and vessels that are an important part of your immune system.
The immune system plays a role in fighting bacteria or infections and in destroying abnormal cells.
Typical symptoms of lymphoma include swollen lymph nodes in the neck or armpits, fatigue, fever, and unexplained weight loss.
However, lymphoma can cause additional symptoms, especially when it starts in the female reproductive organs. These symptoms are often easy to miss because they can be caused by a number of conditions besides lymphoma.
Symptoms of female genital lymphoma may include:
Lymphoma growing in any of the organs in the female genital tract can appear as a mass in your pelvis. As the tumor grows, you might be able to feel and even see the mass, but unless you’re very thin, you probably won’t notice it.
Abnormal uterine bleeding
Abnormal bleeding, such as a significant change in the pattern of menstrual bleeding or starting to bleed again after going through menopause, can be a symptom of lymphoma in your uterus or cervix.
This can be caused by many things, but a change in pattern, especially postmenopausal bleeding, should be evaluated by your doctor.
Abdominal or pelvic pain or pressure
A mass-like lymphoma that’s growing in an organ in your pelvis can cause pain or pressure. Depending on where the lymphoma is, the sensation can be felt in different parts of your abdomen or pelvis.
The pain can be caused by the lymphoma pressing on or invading nerves or other structures. Other causes include the tumor causing spasms in the organ’s muscle or irritating other tissue due to tumor growth.
Pain during sex (dyspareunia)
When a mass, such as lymphoma, forms in a female organ, sex can become painful. Painful sex can also be caused by many other things besides lymphoma. If you’re experiencing painful intercourse, discuss it with your doctor.
Usually when lymphoma starts in a female organ, the classic symptoms aren’t present. Only about 17 percent of women with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma in their genital tract have classic symptoms.
When symptoms do occur, they are nonspecific, meaning they can be seen in a variety of different conditions. You might think that they’re caused by a cold or the flu.
One clue that your symptoms are caused by lymphoma is that they persist. In less serious conditions, like the flu, symptoms improve over time.
Classic symptoms occur in both women and men and include:
Enlarged lymph nodes (lymphadenopathy)
This is the most common symptom of lymphoma.
Lymph nodes or lymph glands are small structures in your body that are important for fighting infection and filtering out abnormal and worn-out cells.
You have hundreds of them in your body, but the ones that are most noticeable are:
- in your armpit (axillary)
- under your jaw (submental)
- on the sides of your neck (cervical)
- in your groin (inguinal)
You can sometimes feel your lymph nodes. They’re normally small and not tender.
When bacteria or viruses pass through them, your lymph nodes attack, which makes them swollen and tender. This is called lymphadenitis, and it’s the most common cause of swollen lymph nodes. They return to their normal size after a few days as the infection resolves.
Lymphoma also makes your lymph nodes swell, but they usually aren’t tender. They’re almost never as painful as they are with an infection.
Swollen inguinal lymph nodes could be a symptom of lymphoma in the female reproductive organs.
A fever that only lasts a few days is unlikely to be caused by lymphoma. More often it’s due to a viral or bacterial infection.
A fever that lasts, either continuously or intermittently, is more likely to be from a serious condition like lymphoma, especially if you don’t have any other symptoms of an infection.
A fever from lymphoma is usually low-grade.
This symptom is common in many conditions, including most types of cancer. It’s normal to be fatigued for a few days from lack of sleep or overexertion.
Unexplained fatigue that persists should be evaluated by your doctor.
Lymphoma can cause you to sweat at night. You may sweat so heavily you wake up suddenly and find your clothes and sheets are soaking wet. You may have to change them before going back to sleep.
It’s not as common, but heavy sweating can occur during the day, too, if you have lymphoma.
Unless night sweats can be explained by things like menopause or the flu, they should be evaluated by your doctor.
Unexplained weight loss
Suddenly losing weight when you’re not trying to can be a symptom of lymphoma. It’s also a symptom of many other conditions, including other types of cancer.
Any time you have significant and unexplained weight loss, see your doctor.
Lymphoma is cancer that begins in lymphocytes, which are a type of white blood cell that play a role in immunity.
Most lymphocytes circulate through your body in tubes that make up your lymphatic system. Lymph nodes are an important part of this system. They monitor the lymph fluid looking for old and abnormal cells.
Lymphoma usually starts in lymph nodes. It sometimes starts in other places that have lymph tissue. These include:
- bone marrow
- digestive tract
Lymphoma can also start in organs in the female genital tract, but it’s rare. Only 1.5 percent of non-Hodgkin’s lymphomas outside of lymph tissue start in the female genital tract.
Female reproductive organs that can be affected include:
- fallopian tubes
- most often starts in lymph nodes in the upper body, especially in the armpit, neck, and chest
- usually spreads only to other lymph nodes through the lymphatic system
- if advanced, occasionally spreads to other parts of the body through the bloodstream
- has many different subtypes
- primarily affects adults, but it can also occur in children
- is the type of lymphoma that occurs in female organs
If you have symptoms that you think might be caused by lymphoma, see your doctor. It’s most likely that these symptoms are due to a more common, less serious condition and will go away with time.
It’s important to see your doctor anyway. If you do have lymphoma, you want to get a diagnosis and begin treatment as early as possible. The earlier you’re treated, the better the outcome is likely to be.
Your doctor will ask you questions about your symptoms, like:
- When do they occur?
- How long have you had them?
- What makes them better or worse?
- How severe are they?
- Do they come and go? Or are they persistent?
Your doctor will also examine you, looking for enlarged lymph nodes and other signs of lymphoma.
If lymphoma or another serious condition is suspected, your doctor may order imaging tests like X-rays or a CT scan. These tests will show enlarged lymph nodes and other indications of lymphoma.
A lymphoma diagnosis is made by taking a biopsy, where a small piece of an affected lymph node or tissue is removed. The tissue is then looked at under a microscope to see if lymphoma is present.
If you have lymphoma, you may experience classic symptoms or no symptoms at all. You may experience additional symptoms, such as a pelvic mass or enlarged lymph nodes in your groin, if you have lymphoma in your female reproductive organs.
The symptoms of lymphoma are nonspecific. Most often they are caused by something less serious and more common. If you have unexplained symptoms and they last, see your doctor. If you have lymphoma, early treatment is the key to having the best outcome.