Signs and Symptoms of Hodgkin Lymphoma

You or your child can have (HL) and feel perfectly well. But HL often causes symptoms or changes that should be checked by a doctor.

Lump(s) under the skin

The most common symptom of HL is a lump in the neck, under the arm, or in the groin, which is an enlarged lymph node. It doesn’t usually hurt, but it may become painful after drinking alcohol. The lump might get bigger over time, or new lumps might appear near it or even in other parts of the body.

Still, HL is not the most common cause of lymph node swelling. Most enlarged lymph nodes, especially in children, are caused by an infection. Lymph nodes that grow because of infection are called reactive or hyperplastic nodes. These often hurt when they're touched. If an infection is the cause, the node should go back to its normal size after the infection goes away.

Other cancers can cause swollen lymph nodes, too. If you have an enlarged lymph node, especially if you haven’t had a recent infection, it’s best to see a doctor so that the cause can be found and treated, if needed.

B symptoms

Some people with HL have what are known as B symptoms:

  • Fever (which can come and go over several weeks) without an infection
  • Drenching night sweats
  • Weight loss without trying (at least 10% of your body weight over 6 months)

These symptoms are an important part of staging HL and determining a person’s outlook.

General (non-specific) symptoms

Other possible symptoms of HL include:

  • Itching skin
  • Feeling tired (fatigue)
  • Loss of appetite

Sometimes the only symptom might be feeling tired all the time.

Cough, trouble breathing, chest pain

If HL affects lymph nodes inside your chest, the swelling of these nodes might press on the windpipe (trachea) and make you cough or even have trouble breathing, especially when lying down. Some people might have pain behind the breast bone.

If you have symptoms

Having one or more of the symptoms above doesn’t mean you definitely have HL. In fact, many of these symptoms are much more likely to be caused by other problems, like an infection. Still, if you or your child has any of these symptoms, have them checked by a doctor so that the cause can be found and, if needed, treated.

The American Cancer Society medical and editorial content team
Our team is made up of doctors and master's-prepared nurses with deep knowledge of cancer care as well as journalists, editors, and translators with extensive experience in medical writing.

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FitzGerald TJ, Bishop-Jodoin M. Hodgkin Lymphoma: Differences in Treatment Between Europe and the United States/North America: Evolving Trends in Protocol Therapy. Clin Med Insights Oncol. 2018;12:1179554918754885.

National Cancer Institute. Adult Hodgkin Lymphoma Treatment (PDQ®)–Patient Version. April 20, 2017. Accessed at www.cancer.gov/types/lymphoma/patient/adult-hodgkin-treatment-pdq on March 15, 2018.

Shanbhag S, Ambinder RF. Hodgkin lymphoma: A review and update on recent progress. CA Cancer J Clin. 2018;68(2):116-132.

Last Medical Review: May 1, 2018 Last Revised: May 1, 2018

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