Non-Hodgkin lymphoma is a type of cancer that affects the immune system and may cause varying symptoms depending on where it starts or grows. Females and males may develop similar symptoms.
Lymphomas can start anywhere in the body where lymph tissue is present. There are many different types of non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL), and doctors typically classify them according to whether they affect B cells or T cells or how fast they grow and spread. B cells and T cells are lymphocytes.
NHL is one of the most common cancers in the United States, accounting for around
This article discusses NHL symptoms and how doctors treat them. In addition, it outlines when to contact a doctor.
A note about sex and gender
Sex and gender exist on spectrums. This article will use the terms “male,” “female,” or both to refer to sex assigned at birth. Click here to learn more.
NHL symptoms do not differ between males or females, and no NHL symptoms are specific to females. The following section discusses NHL signs and symptoms that can affect females and males.
The condition can
The ACS advises that sometimes NHL may not cause any symptoms until it grows larger. The ACS also notes that having one or more symptoms does not mean that someone definitely has lymphoma. Other conditions, such as infection, may cause similar symptoms.
Common signs and symptoms of non-Hodgkin lymphoma
Common symptoms of NHL may include:
- enlarged lymph nodes, which someone may feel as a lump in the neck, groin, or armpit
- frequent or severe infections
- weight loss
- swollen abdomen
- early satiety
- easily bruising or bleeding
- chest pain
- shortness of breath or coughing
Additionally, some people with NHL may experience:
- drenching night sweats
- losing at least 10% of their body weight over 6 months without trying
- fever without an infection which may come and go over several days or weeks
Symptoms of lymphoma in the abdomen
Lymphomas may start to grow in the abdomen and affect other organs, such as the spleen and liver. They may cause the following symptoms:
- abdominal pain or swelling
- loss of appetite
- early satiety
- nausea and vomiting
Symptoms of lymphoma in the chest
Lymphoma may start in the thymus or lymph nodes in the chest, causing the following symptoms:
- difficulty breathing
- chest pain
If the lymphoma presses on the superior vena cava (SVC), which is a vein, it may alter the flow of blood and lead to swelling in the head, arms, and upper chest. Doctors call this SVC syndrome, it is potentially life threatening and a medical emergency.
Symptoms of lymphoma in the skin
Some people may see and feel lymphomas in the skin. They may notice the
- tumors or nodules
- papules, which are small, pimple-like lesions
- plaques, which are thick, raised, or lowered lesions
- patches, which are flat lesions
Skin lymphomas may appear as a rash and are often itchy and red to purple in color.
Symptoms of lymphoma affecting the brain
Primary brain lymphomas may affect the areas around the brain and spinal cord, producing symptoms such as:
- difficulty with thinking or speaking
- personality changes
- weakness in parts of the body
- double vision
- numbness in the face
The way doctors and oncologists treat NHL depends on the type, how advanced it is, and other factors.
- radiation therapy
- targeted drug therapy
- stem cell transplant
A person should contact a doctor if they have any symptoms of NHL. In many cases, another condition
- people aged 60 and over
- males, but certain types of NHL are more common in females
- in the U.S., white Americans are more likely to develop NHL than African Americans and Asian Americans
- people who have a first-degree relative (parent, child, sibling) with NHL
- people who are exposed to certain chemicals
- people who have had radiation therapy
- people who have received organ transplants
- people living with HIV and some genetic syndromes
- people living with certain autoimmune diseases
- people who have experienced certain infections
- people with obesity or more weight
- people with breast implants are more at risk of developing a rare type of NHL called breast implant-associated anaplastic large cell lymphoma
People should speak with a healthcare professional to find out more about their individual risk of developing NHL.
NHL is a form of cancer affecting the immune system and does not have symptoms specific to females. NHL may cause varying symptoms depending on where it develops in the body, its type, and how advanced it is.
People who notice any symptoms of NHL should speak with a doctor. Other conditions may cause similar symptoms and a healthcare professional can identify whether a person’s symptoms are due to NHL or another condition. They can also recommend appropriate treatment.