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10 Common Symptoms of Lymphoma

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Lymphoma is cancer in your lymphatic system, which is designed to fight off infection and diseases. The system includes several lymph nodes, as well as your spleen, thymus gland, and bone marrow. Basically, with lymphoma, your lymph nodes enlarge and fill with cancer. There are different kinds of lymphoma, such as Hodgkin's lymphoma and non-Hodgkin's lymphoma.

Lymphoma is rare, with less than 200,000 cases diagnosed each year in the United States. Chemotherapy, medications, radiation, and stem-cell transplants are used to treat lymphoma.

Symptom 1: Swollen Lymph Nodes

Can you feel that the lymph nodes in your neck and armpits are swollen or enlarged? Are they painful or painless? They may present as lumps.

Besides your lymph nodes swelling because of lymphoma, your spleen may enlarge, too.

Symptom 2: Fatigue

Are you exhausted? Lethargic? Lymphoma and the medications used to treat it can cause fatigue.

According to the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, “Fatigue is very common in patients with blood cancers. Cancer-related fatigue (CRF) is characterized by excessive and persistent exhaustion that interferes with daily activity and function. CRF often begins before cancer is diagnosed, worsens during the course of treatment and may persist for months—even years.”

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Symptom 3: Night Sweats

Do you wake up drenched in your own sweat? The Lymphoma Association states that: “Lymphoma can cause night sweats that are severe enough to make your nightclothes and bed linen soaking wet... Doctors do not know exactly why night sweats happen when you have lymphoma. One possible reason is that they are your body's reaction to your temperature rising to above a normal level (fever).”

According to a post on Cancerforums.net, one patient stated: “For those of you who had night sweats before diagnosis were they drenching? I always assumed that night sweats from Lymphoma were more severe but maybe this isn't the case. I have had night sweats most nights since my DS was born (20 months ago). I mentioned it to my GP and he brushed it off, but it still concerns me. They are definitely not drenching, like when I have a fever and it breaks. When I wake in the morning my pj's are a little damp, but it doesn't wake me in the night. I do have another appt. with my GP this Monday and I will address this issue again. They did suspect a possible auto-immune disease last year when my ANA was positive but then they said I didn't have lupus. Maybe an auto-immune disease has something to do with the night sweats.”

Symptom 4: Fever

Are you suffering from fevers and chills that come and go over several days or weeks?

Fevers are usually due to an infection, but also occur from lymphoma. Lymphoma can cause recurring high-grade or constant low-grade fevers.

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Symptom 5: Weight Loss

Do you have unexplained weight loss? Have you lost weight without even trying to?

According to the Lymphoma Association, “Weight loss is more common with lymphomas that grow very quickly and put a sudden demand on your body. As with many other symptoms, unexplained weight loss can happen for a lot of other reasons and lymphoma is just one of them.”

Symptom 6: Loss of Appetite

Do you not feel like eating? Or do you feel full after eating just a small meal? Fullness occurs from a build-up of fluid in your abdomen. Also, an enlarged spleen can press on your stomach, making you lose your appetite and feel full

According to a post on Lymphomation.org, a patient stated: “In my case, my story will begin with how my cancer was NOT diagnosed. I was never one to go to doctors for little things, but in the fall of 1996, I began running a low-grade fever, complete loss of appetite, general malaise and pelvic pain that persisted for seven months. I went to my internist, who despite running a wide range of tests, was unable to identify the reason, all tests were coming back relatively normal with only slight elevations in WBC and a few others. I had numerous colonoscopies and gastric tests, all coming back normal. My internist early on seemed to have decided that whatever was going on was psychological...yes, I was anxious and depressed, but, when one can’t eat, has pain, feels sick and is being put thru test after test with long delays between each one, I don't think this is out of the ordinary. I went to another internist, but the chart implying that I was nuts followed. This internist pulled me off the steroids as I was running a fever around 100 degrees. More tests including exploratory surgery. However, a day or two after the steroids were stopped, my pain stopped and gradually my appetite returned. (note: the steroids I was on are included in lymphoma treatments--that's why the symptoms stopped).”

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Symptom 7: Shortness of Breath

Is it difficult to breathe? Especially when performing an activity or task? Lymphoma can affect your breathing, and lymphoma cancer cells can spread to your lung tissue.

According to the Lymphoma Association, “Swollen lymph nodes can press on lung tissue, on the breathing passages and on nearby blood vessels.”

Symptom 8: Difficulty Swallowing

Is it hard to swallow? That may be due to enlarged and swollen lymph nodes. Your doctor can prescribe medications that can manage issues with swallowing.

According to Cancer.net, “Difficulty swallowing is called dysphagia. It means having trouble passing food or liquid down the throat. Some people may gag, cough, or choke when trying to swallow. Others may feel like food is stuck in their throat.”

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Symptom 9: Coughing

Are you coughing? When the lymph nodes in your chest swell, they may press against your windpipe, making you cough. 

According to Cancer.org, “When lymphoma starts in the thymus or lymph nodes in the chest, it may press on the nearby trachea (windpipe), which can cause coughing…”

Symptom 10: Headache

Do you have a headache? Lymphoma can cause headaches, as well affect your thinking.

According to Livestrong.com, “The brain is a possible site for extranodal non-Hodgkin lymphoma. The growing cancer increases pressure within the brain, often causing a persistent headache that gets worse over time. The headache is typically worst in the morning.”

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