Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma in Children

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Early Detection, Diagnosis, and Staging TOPICS

Signs and symptoms of non-Hodgkin lymphoma in children

Childhood non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL) can cause many different signs and symptoms, depending on where it is in the body. In some cases it might not cause any symptoms until it grows quite large. Common symptoms include:

  • Enlarged lymph nodes (seen or felt as lumps under the skin)
  • Swollen abdomen (belly)
  • Feeling full after only a small amount of food
  • Shortness of breath or cough
  • Fever
  • Weight loss
  • Night sweats
  • Fatigue (extreme tiredness)

Enlarged lymph nodes

Non-Hodgkin lymphoma may grow in lymph nodes under the skin (on the sides of the neck, in the underarm area, above the collar bone, or in the groin area). The enlarged nodes are often seen or felt as lumps under the skin. They are often noticed by the child, parent, or a health care professional. Enlarged lymph nodes in children are more often caused by infections than by NHL.

Lymphoma in the abdomen (belly)

If the lymphoma grows inside the abdomen, it can make it swollen and painful. There may also be a buildup of fluid that causes even more swelling.

Lymphoma can sometimes enlarge the spleen and make it press on the stomach. This can make a child feel full after eating only a small amount of food.

When lymphoma causes swelling near the intestines, bowel movements may be blocked, which may lead to abdominal pain, nausea, or vomiting.

The lymphoma may also block urine from leaving the kidneys. This can lead to kidney problems, which can cause low urine output, tiredness, loss of appetite, nausea, or swelling in the hands or feet.

Lymphoma in the chest

When lymphoma starts in the thymus or lymph nodes in the chest, it can press on the nearby trachea (windpipe). This can lead to coughing, shortness of breath, and trouble breathing.

The superior vena cava (SVC) is a large vein that carries blood from the head and arms back to the heart. It passes next to the thymus and lymph nodes inside the chest. Lymphomas in this area may push on the SVC, which can make the blood back up in the veins. This is can lead to swelling in the face, neck, arms, and upper chest (sometimes with a bluish-red skin color). It can also cause trouble breathing, as well as headaches, dizziness, and a change in consciousness if it affects the brain. This condition, known as SVC syndrome, can be life-threatening, and needs to be treated right away.

Lymphoma in the brain and spinal cord

Some types of lymphoma can spread to the area around the brain and spinal cord. This can cause problems such as headache, vision changes, facial numbness, and trouble speaking.

Lymphoma in the skin

Some lymphomas can affect the skin itself. They can cause itchy, red or purple lumps or nodules under the skin.

General symptoms

Along with causing symptoms and signs in the part of the body where it starts, NHL can also cause general symptoms such as:

  • Fever and chills
  • Sweating (particularly at night)
  • Unexplained weight loss

When talking about lymphoma, doctors sometimes call these B symptoms. B symptoms are often found in more rapidly growing lymphomas.

Other symptoms can be caused by low blood cell counts. Blood counts can become low if lymphoma spreads to the bone marrow and crowds out the normal, healthy cells that make new blood cells. This can lead to problems like:

  • Severe or frequent infections (from low white blood cell counts)
  • Easy bruising or bleeding (from low blood platelet counts)
  • Fatigue and pale skin (from low red blood cell counts [anemia])

Many of the signs and symptoms above are more likely to be caused by something other than a lymphoma, such as an infection. Still, if your child has any of these symptoms, check with the doctor so that the cause can be found and treated, if needed.


Last Medical Review: 03/07/2014
Last Revised: 03/10/2014