Lymphoma is a cancer of the lymphatic system, starting from an error in the production of lymphatic cells or lymphocytes. This leads to the formation of abnormal or cancer cells, which are formed in two ways:

  • the cells divide faster than normal cells
  • the cells live longer than normal lymphatic cells

Like normal lymphoid cells, the cancer cells may grow in different parts of the body: lymph nodes, spleen, bone marrow or blood.

Lymphoma symptoms and diagnosis


The symptoms listed below are not necessarily caused by lymphoma. Several infectious diseases may cause similar symptoms.

When symptoms persist, a doctor should be consulted.

Lymphoma disease signs or symptoms:

  • enlargement of lymph nodes
  • feeling cold
  • fevers
  • night sweats
  • unexplained weight loss
  • weakness
  • itchy skin

Usually there is no pain during the early stage of lymphoma.

Lymphoma is mostly manifested as an enlargement of cervical or axillary lymph nodes, which are painful when found in a later stage. Sometimes lymph nodes become enlarged in other body regions:

  • enlargement of inguinal lymph nodes may cause swelling of the feet
  • enlargement of abdominal lymph nodes may cause abdominal pain or a feeling of fullness
  • enlargement of thoracic lymph nodes may cause breathing difficulties, a cough or pain
  • Lymphoma may also spread to the brain or spinal cord regions, causing limb weakness and headaches and/or back pain.

Only in very rare cases do lymph nodes not become enlarged in the case of lymphoma.

Investigations for lymphoma detection

Primary investigation is a blood analysis. In addition:

  • tissue specimen or biopsy
  • computer tomography
  • X-ray image
  • ultrasound investigation
  • magnetic resonance imaging
  • positron emission tomography (PET-scan)
  • bone marrow investigation
  • cerebrospinal fluid investigation
  • flow cytometry

Biopsy or obtaining a tissue specimen is the most important diagnostic procedure, where a piece of tissue is removed from the suspicious cancer area for microscopic investigation. Information obtained from the tissue sample is very important for the diagnosis and treatment of lymphoma.

In the system of lymph nodes (lymphatic system), two types of lymphoma occur:

  • non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma
  • Hodgkin’s lymphoma

Text compilation was consulted by: Dr Katrin Palk
Last updated: 16/02/2021