First symptoms of lymphoma

Updated April 17, 2017

Lymphoma, which is also called non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, is cancer of the lymphatic system, the body's disease-fighting system. In lymphoma, tumours develop in a type of white blood cells called lymphocytes. The incidence of lymphoma has increased greatly since the 1970s, but the exact cause is unknown. As with most cancers, treatment and prognosis are dependent on many factors, including the stage of the disease when it is diagnosed. Knowing the early warning signs of lymphoma is key to early diagnosis. When diagnosed early, lymphoma is considered a very treatable form of cancer.

Swollen Lymph Nodes

One of the earliest signs of lymphoma in many people is swollen lymph nodes, particularly in the groin, armpits and neck. In many cases, this may be the only early symptom.

Abdominal Symptoms

If lymph nodes in the abdominal cavity are involved, early signs may include stomach or abdominal swelling or pain in the stomach. These conditions can lead to loss of appetite and nausea and vomiting in some cases.

Chest Symptoms

If the lymph nodes in the chest are involved, early signs of lymphoma may include chest pain or a feeling of pressure on the chest or windpipe. Some people may also experience a cough or shortness of breath.

Night Sweats

Heavy sweating at night, often enough to soak through the clothes, can be one of the first signs of lymphoma.


Some people in the early stages of lymphoma will have a recurrent fever. Because this is often a sign of common illnesses and infections, this symptom is often overlooked.

Other General Symptoms

Other early signs of lymphoma can include fatigue, unexplained weight loss and very itchy skin, but many people will not experience any of these symptoms, which are sometimes characteristics of quickly growing cancer cells.

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About the Author

Anna Aronson began working as a journalist in 2000 and spent six years at suburban Chicago newspapers before pursuing freelance work. She enjoys writing about health care topics, in particular obstetrics, pediatrics and nutrition. She received a Bachelor of Arts in journalism from Eastern Illinois University and is now studying for a Master of Science in medicine degree to become a physician's assistant.