Non-Hodgkin lymphoma

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Non-Hodgkin lymphoma is a type of lymphoma that is less common in teenagers. Learn about the symptoms and diagnosis of Non-Hodgkin lymphoma.

Key points

  • Non-Hodgkin lymphoma is less common in teenagers than Hodgkin lymphoma.
  • Tumours may appear in one area of the body or in different areas of the body, such as in the neck and the belly.
  • Non-Hodgkin lymphoma is diagnosed by looking at the cancerous cells under a microscope and looking at the DNA inside the cell.
  • The most common symptom is swollen, painless lymph nodes that feel like a lump under the skin.

What is non-Hodgkin lymphoma?

As the name suggests, non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL) means cancer of the lymphatic system that is not Hodgkin lymphoma. NHL is less common in teenagers than Hodgkin lymphoma.

Lymphoma can start with a mutation in a T-lymphocyte (T-cell NHL) or a B-lymphocyte (B-cell NHL). The mutation creates cancerous cells that can form tumours. The tumours in NHL often form in the lymph nodes. The tumours might be in only one area of the body, or they may be in lymph nodes in different areas such as the neck and the belly. The NHL tumour may even be found outside the lymphatic system.

There are many types of NHL and each type can be quite different. To diagnose the type of NHL you have, the doctor will look at:

  • what the cancerous cell looks like under a microscope
  • the DNA inside the cancerous cell

What are the symptoms of non-Hodgkin lymphoma?

Symptoms are signals from your body that something is wrong. Sometimes with NHL, you do not even feel symptoms or you may think any symptoms you have are a sign of a cold or the flu instead.

The most common symptom of NHL is swollen, painless, lymph nodes that feel like a lump under the skin.

Some people also have symptoms that affect their whole body. These are called systemic symptoms and include:

  • feeling like you have a cold or the flu
  • fever
  • sweating at night to the point that your pyjamas are wet
  • losing weight
  • being very tired

NHL tumours can affect different parts of the body.

  • If the tumour is in your abdomen (belly), you might have abdominal pain.
  • If the tumour is in your chest, you might have a cough or feel like you cannot breathe well.
  • If NHL is in your skin, you might have itchy red or purple bumps under your skin.
  • NHL can also cause tumours in the brain or spinal cord.

If you have any questions about your type of NHL, what it means, your treatment, or anything else about your cancer, ask someone on your health-care team. Your doctors and nurses want to help you understand.

Last updated: September 3rd 2019