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Lymphoma Screening and Diagnosis

To detect and diagnose lymphoma, our doctors perform thorough exams. They also ask questions about your past health and possible lymphoma symptoms. Additional tests help your healthcare team:

  • Make an accurate lymphoma diagnosis
  • Determine type of lymphoma (Hodgkin lymphoma or non-Hodgkin lymphoma)
  • Determine how far the disease has spread (also called staging)
  • Develop a treatment plan

How is lymphoma diagnosed?

Your doctor may recommend 1 or more of these tests to evaluate you for lymphoma:

  • A physical exam: The doctor will look for swollen lymph nodes, a mass anywhere in your body or an enlarged spleen or liver.
  • Biopsy: The doctor may use a needle to take a biopsy of an enlarged lymph node. The tissue sample goes to the lab where a pathologist examines it under a microscope. The biopsy must be done to confirm a lymphoma diagnosis.
  • Blood tests: Lymphoma usually (but not always) causes changes in your blood tests.
  • Bone marrow biopsy: The doctor usually orders a bone marrow biopsy. A doctor or nurse practitioner inserts a needle into the bone of your hip to collect a small amount of the liquid portion of the bone marrow.
  • Chest X-ray: Chest X-rays show the organs and bones inside your chest. An X-ray is a type of energy beam that can go through the body and onto film, making a picture of areas inside the body.
  • CT scan: A computed tomography (CT) scan is another tool for detecting cancer. It uses radioactive and contrast dyes to make very clear pictures of structures inside the body.
  • Flow cytometry: This test checks the types of cells (normal and abnormal) in a biopsy sample. It shows abnormalities in the DNA of the cells.
  • Lumbar puncture: Also called a spinal tap. Your doctor inserts a thin needle into the spinal canal in the lower part of your back and collects a sample of the fluid that surrounds your brain and spinal cord. The doctor also measures the pressure of this fluid. This test is done only if the doctor wants to check for lymphoma in the brain.
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI): This is a scan that uses a magnet, radio waves and a computer to make exact pictures of areas inside your body.
  • Multigated acquisition (MUGA) scan or echocardiogram: This is a scan that shows how well your heart is pumping blood to the rest of your body. A MUGA scan can show whether your heart can tolerate certain types of chemotherapy.
  • Positron emission tomography (PET) scan: The PET scan uses a special camera that follows a radioactive chemical injected into a vein. It shows changes in energy use (metabolic activity). Cancer cells often use a lot of energy, showing up as very light spots on the scan.
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