Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma is a type of blood cancer. It affects white blood cells and a part of the immune system called the lymphatic system. It develops when a type of immune cell called a lymphocyte doesn’t die off, but rapidly reproduces instead.
There are more than 60 subtypes of this kind of cancer. Each kind affects different types of lymphocytes in their own way.
Symptoms of non-Hodgkin lymphomas can be nonspecific or unnoticeable in the early stages. As the disease progresses, it begins to appear in a number of ways, depending on what type of tissue it’s affecting.
Learn about the possible symptoms you may experience with this kind of cancer.
Swelling of the lymph nodes is one of the first visible symptoms of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Lymph nodes are scattered throughout the body. They house immune cells that fight infection and typically swell for short periods of time when there is an active infection.
When swelling persists or occurs without an infection, other problems like cancer may be suspected. Swollen lymph nodes are usually painless but can be tender when touched.
Since lymphomas can develop into solid tumors, they can create pressure and pain in tight spaces. This is especially true in the chest.
Lymphoma tumors that develop in the chest can put pressure on structures like the trachea and superior vena cava. This can cause coughing and chest pain, as well as major problems with breathing and blood flow.
When the pressure causes blood to back up from the pressure in the superior vena cava, neurological symptoms can occur. This is called superior vena cava syndrome, and it is a medical emergency.
Abdominal pain and swelling can develop in non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma as a result of either abdominal tumors or enlargement of the spleen. The spleen houses immune cells and produces lymphocytes. It loses its ability to filter out old blood cells as it becomes enlarged, and can lose function.
Since lymphomas are cancers of the blood, they can result in a number of blood cell problems like:
- infections from a low white blood cell count (leukopenia)
- fatigue or anemia from a low red blood cell count
- easy bruising and bleeding from a low platelet count (thrombocytopenia)
Cancer treatments like chemotherapy and radiation can cause additional problems with your blood count. A medical team will monitor your blood count throughout your cancer treatment to avoid complications.
Tumors and other masses that form in the brain or on the spinal cord can make a big impact with just a little growth. These growths can put pressure on sensitive areas in tight spaces, causing symptoms like:
Lymphoma masses on the skin originate in the skin cells. However, even those that begin in other areas can impact the skin, too. Symptoms of lymphoma that can be visible on the skin include:
B symptoms refer to a set of generic symptoms that can affect your whole body and may be associated with a number of different conditions. These symptoms include:
These symptoms are the result of the overall toll the cancer is taking on your body. The presence of these symptoms usually means that your cancer is spreading or growing and can help doctor grade and stage your cancer.
For most people who are diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, the cancer becomes a chronic condition. More than
Cancer treatments can be difficult, but a cancer care team can help guide you on ways to cope with the side effects. These may include:
- making arrangements for financial help
- receiving counseling
- finding a support group
- enlisting the help of friends or family at home during treatment
- discussing ways to maintain your health during treatment with your doctor
- tracking side effects and discussing them with your cancer care team
While current treatments are fairly successful at destroying lymphomas, people who survive this type of cancer may deal with an ongoing fear that it will return. Support in the form of counseling and a survivorship care plan can help you manage living with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
A survivorship care plan can include things like:
- diet plans
- activity guides
- future testing requirements and intervals
- details on long-term side effects
- a list of symptoms to know
A wide range of symptoms can appear with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma — if and when they appear at all. This cancer usually develops for some time without symptoms, and even then, symptoms can be generic or subtle.
If you are experiencing problems like ongoing fatigue, infections, or bleeding, make an appointment with a healthcare provider to discuss your concerns.