The most common symptom of lymphoma is a painless swollen lymph node in the neck, armpit or groin. Swollen glands commonly result from infection and very few people with swollen glands are found to have cancer. For this reason GPs will usually treat people with an antibiotic or wait for a few weeks to see if the lump goes away before referring them to hospital for tests. Several people we interviewed had this experience and some young people were initially suspected of having glandular fever rather than lymphoma. One was told her symptoms were associated with her pregnancy. Some people hadn't noticed their swollen lymph glands but had them pointed out by someone else or by the GP when they presented with other symptoms. 

Some people with lymphoma notice only swollen lymph nodes, others also have one or more other symptoms. The most common are night sweats, fevers, weight loss, loss of appetite, tiredness, cough, breathlessness, or a persistent generalised itch. An absence of the most common symptoms - such as night sweats - sometimes falsely reassured people that there was nothing wrong. Some people recognised only later that the symptoms of this sort that they had experienced had been connected with their lymphoma. Middle aged women tended to attribute night sweats to the menopause. Weight loss was sometimes put down to dieting or breastfeeding. One man's prolonged weight loss was attributed to his emphysema. Tiredness was often attributed to other health problems, work stress or parenting. 

Although the neck, armpit and groin are where people commonly first feel a swollen lymph node, lymphoma may occur earlier in other places such as the chest, bowel, abdomen or stomach, where it may cause other symptoms such as pain or gastric problems. Other people we interviewed had had tumours in the abdomen, stomach, chest, spine, leg and eye. Some said that although their symptoms appeared minor they just knew there was something seriously wrong. A woman went to her GP with stomach cramps and had tests that showed her spleen was enlarged and led to her diagnosis, but believes the cramps were not connected with the lymphoma. Other people were found to have an enlarged spleen without being aware of it. Two men had severe prolonged back pain caused by a tumour on the spine. Neither could walk by the time of diagnosis; one was temporarily paralysed and therefore lost control of his bladder, bowels and legs. 

Other problems experienced alongside the commoner symptoms included visual disturbances and deep vein thrombosis. Some people developed symptoms that mimicked arthritis (painful, swollen joints). Others had rheumatoid arthritis itself for some time before being diagnosed with lymphoma, and our expert, Professor David Linch, explains below how the two conditions can be related. In some cases the lymphoma was found incidentally during the investigation of another problem such as a sore throat.

Last reviewed February 2016.
Last updated February 2016.

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