Non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL) is cancer of the lymphatic system. Some symptoms include swollen lymph nodes, extreme night-time sweating, and abdominal pain. Symptoms can vary depending on where NHL has spread.

NHL is a cancer of the lymphatic system, which is an essential component of the immune system. It begins in the lymphocytes, a type of white blood cell, and can spread to other parts of the body.

This article provides an in-depth look at the common and less common symptoms of NHL. It also discusses when to seek medical attention.

A collage of a person experiencing symptoms of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma.Share on Pinterest
Design by MNT; Photography by Nephron, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons & Rob and Julia Campbell/Stocksy

According to the American Cancer Society (ACS), some of the more common symptoms of NHL include:

It is worth noting that NHL is not always symptomatic. Sometimes, symptoms only appear in the later stages.

Alongside common symptoms of NHL, there are also B symptoms. The ACS lists them as follows:

B symptoms do not always affect people who have this condition. However, their presence can help doctors diagnose NHL.

According to a 2022 article, B symptoms can indicate a more severe form of NHL.

Swollen lymph nodes are an important symptom of NHL.

The body contains many lymph nodes, though some are closer to the skin. These lymph nodes exist:

  • on the sides of the neck
  • above the collarbone
  • in the underarms
  • in the groin

Swollen lymph nodes can look and feel like lumps under the skin, which are usually painless.

The ACS notes that although swollen lymph nodes are a common symptom of NHL, they are more likely to occur due to infection. If an infection is the cause of swollen lymph nodes, they will be tender to the touch.

Over time, and without treatment, NHL can spread beyond the lymphatic system. If the cancer reaches the abdomen, it can cause a variety of symptoms.

As the ACS explains, these may vary depending on the affected organ:

  • Abdominal pain and swelling: This could be from enlarging lymph nodes, spleen, or liver. It can also arise due to a build-up of fluid.
  • Loss of appetite and feeling unusually full: This can happen when an enlarged spleen presses against the stomach.

NHL can also affect the stomach and small intestines, which may cause nausea and vomiting.

NHL can also affect the chest. This can occur when lymph nodes within the chest swell up. If this puts pressure on the windpipe, it may cause the following symptoms:

  • breathing difficulties
  • coughing
  • chest pain
  • a feeling of pressure in the chest

NHL can also result in life threatening changes to the chest. Within the chest is a large vein called the superior vena cava, which passes near some lymph nodes.

When these become swollen, blood cannot easily pass through the superior vena cava, which results in a build-up of blood in the veins. This condition is called superior vena cava syndrome.

According to a 2022 article, its more common symptoms include:

  • neck or face swelling
  • swelling of the arms
  • cough
  • shortness of breath

Superior vena cava syndrome can also cause headaches, near-unconsciousness, and coma. It is an emergency that requires immediate medical care.

NHL can affect the brain and spinal cord. This may cause several symptoms, such as:

In some cases, NHL can cause seizures.

People may develop lymphomas of the skin.

If this occurs, people may develop lumps or bumps under the skin that are itchy, red, or purple.

Many symptoms of NHL are not specific to this condition. It is important for people to be aware that experiencing these symptoms is likely to be a cause of other conditions, such as an infection.

However, anyone who experiences the above symptoms should seek medical attention. An early diagnosis may improve a person’s outlook.

Symptoms of NHL might indicate a different form of lymphoma. As a 2022 review notes, Hodgkin and non-Hodgkin lymphoma have some common symptoms.

Learn more about non-Hodgkin lymphoma, including diagnosis and treatment.

The lymphatic system runs throughout the body. This means that non-Hodgkin lymphoma can affect many different areas of a person’s body, potentially causing a wide range of symptoms.

Some of the most common symptoms include swollen lymph nodes, chills, weight loss, fatigue, and more. People may also experience B symptoms, including fever without infection, night sweats, and losing at least 10% of their body weight within 6 months.

By reporting these symptoms early, an individual with non-Hodgkin lymphoma can improve their outlook.