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Signs and Symptoms of Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma

Non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL) can cause different signs and symptoms, depending on the type of lymphoma and where it is in the body.

Sometimes NHL might not cause any symptoms until it grows quite large. Having one or more of the symptoms below doesn’t mean you have lymphoma. In fact, many of the symptoms listed here are more likely to be caused by other conditions, such as an infection. Still, if you have any of these symptoms, have them checked by a doctor so that the cause can be found and treated, if needed.

Common signs and symptoms of lymphoma

Some common signs and symptoms of lymphoma include:

  • Enlarged lymph nodes (sometimes felt as lumps under the skin, especially in the neck, underarm, or groin area)
  • Fever and chills
  • Weight loss
  • Fatigue (feeling very tired)
  • Swollen abdomen (belly)
  • Feeling full after only a small amount of food
  • Chest pain or pressure
  • Shortness of breath or cough
  • Severe or frequent infections
  • Easy bruising or bleeding

Some people with non-Hodgkin lymphoma have what are known as B symptoms:

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

Swollen lymph nodes

Non-Hodgkin lymphoma can cause lymph nodes to become enlarged. Enlarged lymph nodes close to the surface of the body (such as on the sides of the neck, in the groin or underarm areas, or above the collar bone), may be seen or felt as lumps under the skin. These are usually not painful.

Although enlarged lymph nodes are a common symptom of lymphoma, they are much more often caused by infections. Lymph nodes that grow in reaction to infection are called reactive nodes or hyperplastic nodes and are often tender to the touch.

Symptoms from lymphoma in the abdomen

Lymphomas that start or grow in the abdomen (belly) can cause swelling or pain in the abdomen. This could be from lymph nodes or organs, such as the spleen or liver, getting bigger. It can also be caused by the buildup of large amounts of fluid.

An enlarged spleen might press on the stomach, which can cause a loss of appetite and feeling full after only a small meal.

Lymphomas in the stomach or intestines can cause abdominal pain, nausea, or vomiting.

Symptoms from lymphoma in the chest

When lymphoma starts in the thymus or lymph nodes in the chest, it may press on the nearby trachea (windpipe), which can cause coughing, trouble breathing, or a feeling of chest pain or pressure.

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

Symptoms from lymphoma affecting the brain

Lymphomas of the brain, called primary central nervous system (CNS) lymphomas, can cause headache, trouble thinking, weakness in parts of the body, personality changes, and sometimes seizures.

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

Symptoms from lymphoma in the skin

Lymphomas of the skin may be seen or felt. They often appear as itchy, red, or purple lumps or bumps under the skin. For more details, see Lymphoma of the Skin.

The American Cancer Society medical and editorial content team

Our team is made up of doctors and oncology certified nurses with deep knowledge of cancer care as well as editors and translators with extensive experience in medical writing.

Freedman AS, Friedberg JW, Aster JC. Clinical presentation and initial evaluation of non-Hodgkin lymphoma. UpToDate. 2023. Accessed at https://www.uptodate.com/contents/clinical-presentation-and-initial-evaluation-of-non-hodgkin-lymphoma on November 30, 2023.

Sapkota S, Shaikh H. Non-Hodgkin lymphoma. InStatPearls [Internet] 2023. StatPearls Publishing.

Last Revised: February 15, 2024

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