Lymphoma: Symptoms, Causes, Diagnosis, Prevention & Treatment

Lymphoma is a form of cancer that emerges from the lymphatic system, a crucial component of the body’s immune system. It typically starts in white blood cells called lymphocytes and can lead to the enlargement of lymph nodes. 

The lymphatic system comprises the lymph nodes, spleen, and thymus gland, and it plays a crucial role in fighting infections and maintaining the body’s fluid balance.

There are several symptoms, causes, and risk factors associated with lymphoma. Typical symptoms include enlarged lymph nodes, fever, night-time perspiration, and unaccounted for weight reduction.

However, it is important to note that early stages of lymphoma might not always manifest noticeable symptoms. 

Several factors can contribute to the development of lymphoma, including exposure to certain chemicals, a weakened immune system, or a family history of the disease. 

Treatment options for lymphoma vary depending on the type, stage, and individual factors. The main treatment approaches include chemotherapy, radiation therapy, immunotherapy, or targeted therapy. 

It is also crucial to adopt preventive measures and lifestyle changes that can help reduce the risk of developing lymphoma and improve overall health during and after treatment.

Symptoms of Lymphoma

Symptoms indicating lymphoma can also suggest a range of other illnesses, so it’s essential to seek medical advice if they occur and persist. Proper diagnosis is crucial for effective management.

General Symptoms

Lymphoma often presents itself with a range of general symptoms including:

Swollen lymph nodes 

The most common symptom is a painless swelling of one or more lymph nodes, typically in the neck, armpit, or groin region.

These enlarged nodes are usually the result of lymphocytes—white blood cells in the lymphatic system—multiplying uncontrollably.

Persistent Fever 

Another general symptom of lymphoma is fever, which can fluctuate and is often unexplained by common conditions like cold or flu.

The fever can be an outcome of the body’s response to the lymphoma cells when it persists without any typical cause, and co-exists with symptoms like weight loss or swollen lymph nodes.

Night sweats

Night sweats, often severe enough to drench sleepwear and bedding, are commonly found in individuals with lymphoma.

This could be a response of the body’s immune system to the growing cancer cells.

Weight loss 

Unintentional weight loss is a typical symptom of lymphoma and often occurs rapidly. 

Lymphoma can cause a significant decrease in appetite leading to weight loss, or, alternatively, the body might burn more calories due to the disease’s metabolic demands.


Fatigue is a prevalent symptom in lymphoma patients. It’s a profound tiredness that doesn’t improve with rest. 

This fatigue is not just physical but can also impact mental and emotional wellbeing.


Pain associated with lymphoma is often the result of swollen lymph nodes pressing on surrounding tissues. This may cause pain in the chest, abdomen or bones, depending on its location in the body.

This can manifest as abdominal discomfort if the lymph nodes inside the abdomen are affected or chest pain if mediastinal nodes are involved.

Hodgkin Lymphoma Symptoms

Hodgkin lymphoma is a specific type of lymphoma, and its symptoms may include the general lymphoma symptoms as well as:

Itchy skin

Unexplained itchy skin or pruritus can be a unique symptom of Hodgkin lymphoma.

This skin irritation often cannot be attributed to visible rashes or dry skin.

Alcohol-induced pain

In rare cases, people with Hodgkin lymphoma may experience pain in their lymph nodes after consuming alcohol. 

This peculiar symptom is typically described as a quick onset and rapid relief of pain in the lymph nodes.

Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma Symptoms

Similar to Hodgkin lymphoma, Non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL) shares many general lymphoma symptoms. Additionally, NHL symptoms may include:

Easy bruising or bleeding

Easy bruising or bleeding can occur in cases of Non-Hodgkin lymphoma.

This is typically due to a low platelet count, a condition known as thrombocytopenia, caused by the lymphoma cells crowding out the platelet-producing cells in the bone marrow.

Systemic symptoms 

Systemic symptoms of Non-Hodgkin lymphoma include fever, drenching night sweats, fatigue, and significant unintended weight loss. 

These are often referred to as “B” symptoms and may indicate a more advanced stage of the disease.

Remember that the symptoms of lymphoma can vary greatly depending on the type and individual factors. It is essential to consult a healthcare professional for accurate diagnosis and treatment options if you experience any of these symptoms.

Causes and Risk Factors

While the precise cause of lymphoma remains unclear, certain factors have been identified to elevate the likelihood of developing the disease. In this section, we will discuss some of the major risk factors, including genetic and family history, infections, autoimmune diseases, organ transplants, age, and gender.

Genetic and Family History

While most cases of lymphoma are not directly inherited, having a close relative with the disease tends to increase the risk.

Genetic mutations, especially those affecting the immune system, may contribute to the development of lymphoma.


Some viral and bacterial infections are known to increase the risk of lymphoma. For example, the Epstein-Barr virus is associated with several types of lymphoma, while the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) weakens the immune system, making the body more susceptible to lymphoma.

People with chronic hepatitis C infections also have a higher risk of developing the disease.

Autoimmune Diseases

Individuals with autoimmune disorders, such as rheumatoid arthritis, have a higher risk of developing lymphoma.

Autoimmune diseases cause the immune system to attack healthy cells, potentially leading to an increased risk of cancerous changes.

Organ Transplants

Organ transplant recipients often require immune-suppressing medications to prevent organ rejection. 

These medications, in turn, may increase the risk of developing lymphoma as they weaken the immune system’s ability to fight off diseases.

Age and Gender

The risk of developing lymphoma generally increases with age as older individuals are more likely to have a weakened immune system.

Additionally, some types of lymphoma, like non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, are more common in men than women.

Being aware of these factors and maintaining a healthy lifestyle can help reduce the risk but cannot guarantee complete prevention. 


The type and stage of the lymphoma is crucial for deciding the most effective course of treatment. Regular communication with healthcare providers ensures appropriate management.

Physical Examination

The first step in diagnosing lymphoma is a thorough physical exam, during which a healthcare provider may check for swollen lymph nodes in the neck, underarm, and groin areas.

Depending on the findings, the doctor may recommend additional tests to support and help determine if lymphoma is present.

Blood Tests and Complete Blood Count

Blood tests can be used to assess the patient’s overall health and detect any signs of blood cancer.

A complete blood count (CBC) is a common test that checks for abnormalities in the number of white blood cells, called lymphocytes, which are part of the immune system and can be affected by lymphoma.

Imaging Tests

Various imaging tests scans may be used to visualize the affected areas, providing more information on the size, location, and spread of the cancerous cells.


Uses magnetic fields and radio waves to create detailed images of the body’s tissues and organs.

It’s particularly effective in imaging soft tissues and can help identify lymph nodes affected by lymphoma.

CT Scan

Combines a series of X-ray images taken from different angles to create cross-sectional images of the body.

 These scans can clearly show enlarged lymph nodes or other abnormalities.


Injects a small amount of radioactive material into the body, enabling doctors to detect cancer cells based on their increased metabolic activity.

Besides detection, PET scans are valuable in evaluating response to treatment, as active cancer cells would consume more of the radioactive glucose than normal cells, thus appearing brighter on the scan.

Biopsy and Bone Marrow Aspiration

If the results from the physical examination, blood tests, and imaging tests indicate the possibility of lymphoma, the doctor will likely order a biopsy to confirm the diagnosis. 

In a biopsy, a small tissue sample is extracted from a swollen lymph node or an area suspected of containing cancer cells. This sample is then inspected under a microscope to check for the existence of cancerous cells, particularly T cells and various lymphocytes.

In some cases, a bone marrow aspiration may be performed. This procedure involves the removal of a small amount of bone marrow, usually from the hip bone, using a long, thin needle.

The sample is then examined for cancerous cells, helping to determine if the lymphoma has spread to the bone marrow.

Types and Subtypes

Lymphomas are mainly categorized into two types: Hodgkin Lymphoma and Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma. These types have different characteristics and are further divided into subtypes, which can be either aggressive or indolent. 

Hodgkin Lymphoma Types

Hodgkin Lymphoma is a cancer of the lymphatic system characterized by the presence of Reed-Sternberg cells, which are large, abnormal cells found in the lymph nodes. There are several subtypes of Hodgkin Lymphoma:

Nodular sclerosis Hodgkin lymphoma 

This is the most common type and is often found in adolescents and young adults. It is characterized by large, abnormal cells embedded in fibrous tissue within the lymph nodes.

It often initiates in the lymph nodes in the neck or chest. 

Mixed cellularity Hodgkin lymphoma

The second most common type, it affects a broader age range and often involves multiple lymph node regions.

Its diagnosis is based on the distinctive appearance of these cells under the microscope. Although its clinical behavior is like other types of Hodgkin lymphoma, it usually presents at more advanced stages and requires appropriate treatment.

Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma Types

Non-Hodgkin Lymphomas (NHL) are a diverse group of lymphomas that do not involve Reed-Sternberg cells.

NHL can be further classified based on the type of lymphocytes involved: B-cell lymphomas and T-cell lymphomas.

B-cell Lymphomas

B-cell lymphomas are the most common type of NHL and originate in the B lymphocytes, which are responsible for producing antibodies. Some notable subtypes include:

Diffuse large B-cell lymphoma (DLBCL) 

An aggressive form of NHL, which is the most common subtype and often requires intensive treatment. DLBCL grows rapidly but typically responds well to treatment. It can originate anywhere in the body.

Follicular Lymphoma

An indolent form of NHL that tends to grow slowly and may not require immediate treatment.It arises from B lymphocytes, affecting the lymph nodes and sometimes organs like the spleen or bone marrow. Although typically slower to progress, it often requires ongoing management given its recurrent nature.

T-cell Lymphomas

T-cell lymphomas originate in the T lymphocytes, which play a crucial role in cell-mediated immunity. Some subtypes of T-cell lymphomas include:

Peripheral T-cell lymphoma (PTCL)

A rare and aggressive form of NHL, representing about 10% to 15% of all NHL cases. PTCL’s subtypes can vary in symptoms, presentation, and prognosis.

The rapid progression of PTCL highlights the importance of prompt diagnosis and treatment. 

Cutaneous T-cell lymphoma (CTCL) 

A group of indolent lymphomas primarily affecting the skin, often presenting as an itchy rash or skin lesions.

It ranges from slow-growing to more aggressive subtypes, with the most common forms being mycosis fungoides and Sézary syndrome.

Treatment Options

There are various treatment options available for lymphoma patients. The selection of a particular treatment depends on factors like the type and stage of lymphoma, overall health, and individual preferences.

This section will discuss some common treatments, including Chemotherapy, Radiation Therapy, Immunotherapy and Targeted Therapy.


Chemotherapy is a common treatment for lymphoma that uses drugs to kill cancer cells. It may be given orally, intravenously, or in a combination of both. Different chemotherapy agents are used depending on the lymphoma type and stage.

The process involves administering the treatment at specified intervals, known as cycles, with a rest period in between to allow the body to recover. Side effects of chemotherapy can include fatigue, vomiting, hair loss, and an increased risk of infection. However, supportive medications can help alleviate most side effects.

Radiation Therapy

Radiation therapy employs high-energy beams or particles aimed at eliminating cancer cells. This treatment is often used in conjunction with other therapies, such as chemotherapy, for treating lymphoma.

Depending on the extent of the lymphoma, radiation therapy can be administered externally using a machine that directs radiation at the affected area, or internally through implanted radioactive materials. Side effects of radiation therapy may include skin redness, fatigue, and nausea, but these usually subside after treatment is completed.


Immunotherapy is a form of treatment that enhances the capacity of the immune system to combat cancer. It involves the use of medicines, such as monoclonal antibodies, that are designed to target specific proteins on the surface of cancer cells.

Immunotherapy works by enhancing the body’s natural defense mechanisms against cancer, without causing much damage to healthy cells. Some side effects of immunotherapy include fever, chills, and fatigue. However, these side effects are often temporary and manageable with medication.

Targeted Therapy

Targeted therapy is another treatment option that involves using drugs that specifically target cancer cells while causing minimal harm to normal cells. These drugs can block the growth of cancer cells, interfere with their ability to divide, and even promote cancer cell death.

In the case of lymphoma, targeted therapies like kinase inhibitors or BCL-2 inhibitors may be used, depending on the specific molecular characteristics of the cancer. Side effects of targeted therapy vary depending on the specific drug used, but they are generally milder than chemotherapy.

Prevention and Lifestyle Changes

Preventing lymphoma can be challenging, as many of its causes are still unknown. However, adopting a healthy lifestyle and taking measures to reduce your risk of infections can lower your chances of developing the disease. Here are some recommendations to consider for lymphoma prevention and to maintain a healthy immune system.

First, maintain a well-balanced diet that is rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins.

This provides the essential nutrients your body needs to function optimally and fight off infections, thus reducing the risk of disease.

Incorporate regular exercise into your daily routine, as it boosts immune function, contributes to maintaining a healthy weight, and promotes overall wellbeing.

Aim for at least 150 minutes of weekly moderate-intensity aerobic exercise or 75 minutes of high-intensity aerobic activity per week.

Avoid smoking and limit alcohol consumption, as these habits have been linked to various types of cancers, including lymphoma. 

If you do consume alcohol, follow the guidelines of no more than one drink per day for women and two drinks per day for men.

Minimize exposure to harmful chemicals or substances in your workplace or at home by wearing protective gear and following safety guidelines.

Some occupations, like farming or manufacturing, have a higher risk of exposure to potentially cancer-causing substances.

Ensure that you receive vaccinations to protect against infections, such as the human papillomavirus (HPV) and hepatitis B vaccines.

These immunizations help reduce your risk of infections that are associated with certain types of lymphoma.

Finally, practice good hygiene by washing your hands, regularly cleaning commonly touched surfaces, and avoiding close contact with people who have contagious infections.

This reduces your risk of exposure to various infections that can stress your immune system and potentially lead to lymphoma.

By incorporating these lifestyle changes, you can support a robust immune system and lower your risk of lymphoma.

Keep in mind that there are no guarantees, but taking these proactive steps can contribute to a healthier, more resilient body.

Prognosis, Remission, and Recovery

The outlook for patients with lymphoma fluctuates depending on factors like the type and stage of the disease, the age of the patient, their overall health condition, and how they respond to the treatment. In general, early diagnosis and treatment lead to better outcomes.

Remission is a term used to describe the absence of detectable cancer cells in the body. In some cases, patients with lymphoma achieve complete remission, meaning all signs of the disease are gone. However, achieving remission does not always mean a person is cured. 

Cancer can sometimes return, which is referred to as a relapse or recurrence. It is important for patients to follow up with their healthcare providers regularly, even after achieving remission, to monitor for any signs of cancer returning.

Recovery from lymphoma treatment can take time, as patients may experience a wide range of side effects. Common side effects include fatigue, nausea, hair loss, and changes to the immune system.

Some side effects may be temporary and subside once treatment is completed, while others may persist for a longer period. It is essential for patients to work closely with their healthcare providers to manage these side effects and maintain an optimal quality of life during and after treatment.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the common early symptoms of lymphoma?

Lymphoma typically presents with painless swelling of lymph nodes in areas such as the neck, armpit, or groin. 

Other common symptoms include fever, night sweats, unintentional weight loss, and fatigue. It is essential to consult a healthcare professional if you experience any of these symptoms, as early diagnosis can improve treatment outcomes. 

How is lymphoma diagnosed?

Diagnosing lymphoma involves a physical exam to check for swollen lymph nodes, spleen, and liver. If the doctor suspects lymphoma, a lymph node biopsy procedure may be recommended to remove all or part of a lymph node for laboratory testing.

Other tests, such as blood tests, imaging studies, and bone marrow biopsy, may also be required to confirm the diagnosis and determine the stage of the disease.

What factors contribute to the development of lymphoma?

While the precise cause of lymphoma isn’t completely clear, numerous factors might increase the likelihood of developing the disease. These include a weakened immune system, certain infections (such as HIV or Epstein-Barr virus), exposure to toxic chemicals, and a family history of lymphoma. 

However, it’s important to note that most people with these risk factors do not develop lymphoma. 

What are the various treatment options for lymphoma?

Treatment options for lymphoma depend on the type, stage, and the individual’s overall health. Common treatments include chemotherapy, radiation therapy, immunotherapy, targeted therapy. 

A team of healthcare professionals will work together to develop the most appropriate treatment plan for each patient. 

How can one reduce the risk of developing lymphoma?

While not all risk factors for lymphoma can be controlled, some lifestyle changes may help reduce the risk.

These include maintaining a healthy weight, avoiding exposure to toxic chemicals, practicing safe sex to prevent infections, and staying up-to-date with vaccinations. It’s essential to discuss any concerns about lymphoma risk with a healthcare professional. 

What are the survival rates for different types of lymphoma?

Survival rates for lymphoma depend on aspects like the type and stage of the disease and factors such as age and general health. In general, Hodgkin lymphoma has a higher survival rate than non-Hodgkin lymphoma.

Early diagnosis and prompt treatment can significantly impact survival rates. For more information on survival rates based on specific circumstances, consult a healthcare professional.

Important Lymphoma Information Recap

Lymphoma is a cancer that affects the lymphatic system, mainly impacting white blood cells known as lymphocytes.

The type of lymphoma is determined based on the characteristics of the cancer cells present and directs the treatment approach.

Common symptoms include swollen lymph nodes, fever, and weight loss, but early stages might not show noticeable signs.

Night sweats and shortness of breath are also common. Early recognition of these symptoms is key in timely diagnosis and treatment of lymphoma.

Diagnosis and treatment plans depend on the lymphoma type, stage, and individual factors; preventive measures can help lower the risk of development.

Treatment modalities often involve chemotherapy, radiation therapy, targeted drugs, or immunotherapy.

The lymphatic system comprises the lymph nodes, spleen, and the thymus gland. Lymphoma primarily manifests in two forms: Hodgkin lymphoma and non-Hodgkin lymphoma. 

  • Hodgkin lymphoma is distinguished by the existence of specific abnormal cells known as Reed-Sternberg cells. It typically affects younger individuals and has a higher survival rate when diagnosed and treated early. 
  • On the other hand, non-Hodgkin lymphoma does not have Reed-Sternberg cells and is more common, affecting people of various ages.

The causes of lymphoma are not yet fully understood. However, certain factors may increase the risk of developing the disease, such as a weakened immune system, family history of lymphoma, exposure to certain chemicals, and some viral infections like Epstein-Barr virus.

The diagnosis of lymphoma involves a series of tests, including blood tests, imaging scans, and biopsies. The choice of treatment for lymphoma is dictated by the type and stage of the disease, as well as the general health of the patient. 

Common treatments include chemotherapy, radiation therapy, immunotherapy and targeted therapies to eliminate or slow the growth of cancer cells.

Prevention strategies for lymphoma are not definitive, as the exact causes remain unknown.

However, maintaining a healthy lifestyle, such as exercising regularly, consuming a balanced diet, avoiding exposure to harmful chemicals, and managing chronic infections can help reduce the risk of developing lymphoma and other types of cancer. 

Regular check-ups are crucial for early detection and prompt treatment.