Yesterday was World Lymphoma Awareness Day -  a chance to show support and raise awareness of lymphoma. In this blog, content channel editor Tania talks about the signs and symptoms of lymphoma, and how it is diagnosed.

Lymphoma is a cancer of the lymphatic system. This is part of the body's immune system which helps to protect us from infection and disease. It also drains fluid from the body's tissues back into the blood. The lymphatic system includes:

  • lymph vessels
  • lymph nodes (sometimes called lymph glands)
  • lymphocytes (blood cells that fight infection)
  • lymphatic organs
  • other lymphatic tissue.

In lymphoma, the lymphocytes become abnormal. They keep dividing and grow out of control. The abnormal lymphocytes are the lymphoma cells. Over time, there are enough lymphoma cells to form a lump. The most common place for this to happen is in the lymph nodes, but lymphoma can start growing in other parts of the body too.

There are different types of lymphoma, but the two main sub-types are: Hodgkin lymphoma (HL) and non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL).

This image is a quote from Terry, who was diagnosed with lymphoma. It reads, one night I noticed a part of my neck was swollen. I was a bit under the weather at the time, so I assumed it was part of that. But it didnt go away, so I went to the doctor.

Signs and symptoms of lymphoma

Most of the symptoms of lymphoma can also be caused by other illnesses. It is important to be aware of these symptoms and get them checked. The most common symptom of lymphoma is a painless lump where a lymph node is swollen. This is usually in the neck, armpit or groin. It is important to remember that lymph nodes can be swollen for other reasons, such as infections. But if the swelling doesn’t go away, or if you have any of the other symptoms listed here, see your GP.

Other symptoms may include:

  • heavy drenching sweats, especially at night
  • unexplained high temperatures
  • unexplained weight loss
  • tiredness.

Some people have other symptoms, such as a cough or breathlessness, depending on where the lymphoma is in their body. Some people do not have any of these symptoms and the lymphoma is found during tests for other conditions.

How is lymphoma diagnosed?

The most important test for diagnosing lymphoma is a biopsy. A doctor or nurse will take a sample of tissue from the affected area. Then, they send the tissue sample to a laboratory to be examined under a microscope and for further tests.

Most lymphomas involve the lymph nodes, so the most common place to take a biopsy from is an enlarged lymph node. This may be done using local or general anaesthetic.

After diagnosis, further tests are done to find out more about the lymphoma, and to help plan treatment. The tests will depend on the type of lymphoma, but may include:

  • blood tests
  • CT scan
  • PET-CT scan
  • MRI scan
  • bone marrow sample (biopsy).

If you have any symptoms or are worried about lymphoma, talk to your GP. Your GP will examine you, and may arrange for you to have further tests.

We have more information about lymphoma on our website. You can also order our free booklets, Understanding Hodgkin lymphoma, and Understanding non-Hodgkin lymphoma.

This image shows the front covers of our two booklets, Understanding Hodgkin lymphoma and Understanding non-Hodgkin lymphoma.

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