Lymphoma develops when a type of white blood cell called a lymphocyte grows atypically. It usually starts in lymph nodes or other lymph tissue, but it can also start in your skin.
Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma is one of the two primary types, along with Hodgkin’s lymphoma. These cancers are differentiated based on how cancer cells look under a microscope.
Swollen lymph nodes in the side of your neck are a common early symptom. Depending on where the cancer starts, you may also develop symptoms like headaches, dizziness, or sore throat.
Read on to learn more about the early symptoms of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma involving your head and neck.
One of the
Swollen lymph nodes generally aren’t painful, and they cause a lump that moves when touched. Some people describe these lumps as having a soft or rubbery feel.
The most common locations for them to develop are the side of your neck, armpit, and groin. Your neck contains about 300 out of 800 of your body’s lymph nodes.
Other head and neck symptoms
More than 60 types of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma have been identified. Symptoms can vary depending on the type of lymphoma you have and where it forms. If lymphoma develops in your central nervous system, it can cause symptoms such as:
Symptoms of extranodal lymphoma
If the lymphoma has spread beyond lymph nodes, it’s known as extranodal lymphoma. About
Other symptoms of lymphoma around your throat and nose include:
- enlarged neck nodes
- nasal blockage
- hearing loss
Symptoms of oral lymphomas
Lymphoma can also develop inside your mouth. Oral lymphomas are most common in people with an
Very rarely, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma can develop at the base of your tongue and cause symptoms such as:
feeling of choking when drinking
- a sensation of a foreign object in your mouth
- restricted tongue movement
- difficulty swallowing
- limited tongue control
Lymphomas make up about 1.7 to 3.1 percent of all salivary gland cancers, which can cause symptoms such as:
- a lump or swelling in your mouth, cheek, neck, or jaw
- persistent pain in these areas
- facial numbness
- trouble fully opening your mouth
General symptoms of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma
A buildup of atypical lymphocytes can crowd out healthy blood cells and lead to many general symptoms such as:
Symptoms that become more common and severe with advanced lymphoma are known as “B symptoms.” They include:
- a fever greater than 100.4°F (38°C)
- night sweats that drench your sheets
- weight loss of more than 10 percent of your body weight for no apparent reason within 6 months
In the vast majority of people, swollen lymph nodes aren’t caused by non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Lymph nodes commonly swell when you have an infection and return to normal when the infection passes.
Here’s a general comparison of typical symptoms of lymphoma versus those of an infection:
|swollen lymph nodes
|swollen lymph nodes
|loss of appetite
|loss of appetite
|easy bruising and bleeding
|cold or flu symptoms
|vomiting or diarrhea
|redness, soreness, or swelling around an injury, such as a cut or burn
When to see a doctor
The National Health Service recommends seeing a doctor if:
- your swollen glands continue getting bigger or don’t go away within 2 weeks
- your swollen glands feel hard or don’t move when you press them
- you have night sweats or a high fever for more than 3 to 4 days
- you have no other signs of illness
- your swollen glands are above or below your collar bone
A diagnosis of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma usually starts with a visit to your primary doctor. Your doctor will ask you about your symptoms, examine your medical history, and perform a physical exam.
If lymphoma or another health problem is expected, they will order additional tests such as:
- Lymph node biopsy. During a lymph node biopsy, a small amount of tissue is extracted from a lymph node for lab testing. A lymph node biopsy is the
only wayto confirm a non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma diagnosis.
- Bone marrow aspiration and biopsy. A bone marrow aspiration and biopsy involves removing a small sample of your bone marrow for lab testing to see if cancer is present.
- Spinal tap. A spinal tap helps your doctor see if lymphoma cells are in the cerebral spinal fluid around your brain and spine.
- Imaging tests. Imaging tests such as X-rays, CT scans, PET scans, or MRIs can help doctors understand the extent of your cancer and see if treatment is working.
- Blood tests. Blood tests can help doctors see how far the cancer has advanced and rule out other conditions.
After receiving a diagnosis, your doctor will likely want you to undergo further testing to better understand the type of cancer you have. You and your doctor can work together to assemble a cancer team and to determine the best cancer treatment.
Your team will likely consist of a variety of medical professionals such as:
- nurse practitioners
- clinical social workers
Treatment options for non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma
Treatment for non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma depends on the extent of your cancer, how aggressive it is, the specific type you have, and your overall health. It will likely consist of some combination of:
Joining a support group can help you cope with and understand your condition. Your doctor may be able to recommend a local support group in your area. You can also find support from these sources:
The most common early symptom of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma is a swollen lymph node. Swollen lymph nodes can appear anywhere on your body but are most common in your armpit, neck, or groin.
Most of the time, swollen lymph nodes aren’t caused by lymphoma or other cancers. But if a swollen lymph node gets bigger or doesn’t go away after about 2 weeks, it’s a good idea to contact a doctor.