Lymphoma has the unhealthy distinction of being among the top 10 types of cancers that affect human beings. More often than not, lymphoma presents with nonspecific and apparently benign-appearing symptoms. It is when these symptoms persist that an evaluation to determine their cause is undertaken and lymphoma is diagnosed.
WHAT ARE THE MAIN SYMPTOMS OF LYMPHOMA?
- Lymphadenopathy (swelling of the lymph nodes)
- B symptoms (systemic symptoms) can be associated with both Hodgkin’s lymphoma and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. They consist of:
- Night sweats
- Weight loss
- Other symptoms:
- Loss of appetite
- Difficulty breathing
- Swollen abdomen (belly)
- Feeling full after only a small amount of food
- Low red blood cell count (anemia)
ARE MY SWOLLEN NECK GLANDS LYMPHOMA?
Swollen lymph nodes are familiar to many people because lymph nodes in the neck (commonly referred to as ‘glands’) can become swollen during infections such as the common cold. With lymphoma, the lymph nodes often grow slowly and may remain undetected for months or even years before they are noticed, although they may sometimes grow very quickly. When caused by infection, the swelling subsides, but when caused by lymphoma, the swelling persists. Lymph nodes are a part of the body’s immune system and are found all over the body, but their swelling in lymphoma is most often noticeable in the neck, armpits, and groin. Painless swelling of the lymph nodes is the most common symptom of lymphoma. About 7 out of every 10 people (70%) diagnosed with lymphoma have a swollen lymph node in their neck. This enlargement of lymph nodes can sometimes be painful and aching, and some people find it is painful after drinking alcohol. More likely than not, your swollen neck glands are from infection and not lymphoma, but if the swelling persists, you should seek medical attention, especially if any of the following symptoms are also present.
B symptoms refer to systemic symptoms of fever, night sweats, and weight loss which can be associated with both Hodgkin’s lymphoma and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. The presence or absence of B symptoms has a bearing on the prognosis (outcome) and staging of lymphomas. Sweats can be drenching, especially at night, leaving the bed sheets soaking wet. High temperatures/fevers may come and go. Weight loss is sudden with no obvious explanation. The presence of B symptoms is a marker of more advanced disease with widespread (as opposed to local) involvement of the lymphoma. Therefore, B symptoms are a negative prognostic factor in lymphoma, i.e., they are indicators of advanced disease and rapidly growing lymphomas with poor prognosis. When a lymphoma is staged, the doctor inquires about presence or absence of B symptoms because this can affect how the lymphoma needs to be treated.
Other symptoms of lymphoma include itching, which may be worse after drinking alcohol, cough or a feeling of breathlessness (if the lymphoma affects lymph nodes in the chest), abdominal pain or vomiting after drinking alcohol, loss of appetite, and tiredness, exhaustion, or fatigue.
Like any cancer, the earlier a lymphoma is picked up, the easier it is to treat and the more likely the treatment is to be successful. Many symptoms of lymphoma can be caused by things other than cancer. Therefore, it is important to be aware of these deceptively benign-appearing and apparently inconsequential symptoms. You should stay up-to-date with physical examinations and make your physician aware of any persistent symptoms.