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Lymphoma Symptoms and Risks

The majority of cases of  lymphoma cannot be prevented because the exact cause remains unknown. Lymphoma may be triggered by an infection or exposure to radiation. However, there are common risk factors that may be associated with developing the disease, as well as common lymphoma symptoms many people experience.

Lymphoma Symptoms

The most common early sign of lymphoma is a painless enlarged lymph node(s) in the neck or upper chest. Sometimes you can feel the swollen lymph node(s) in your armpit, stomach area or groin.

Hodgkin lymphoma starts in the lymph nodes of the neck and spreads in an orderly fashion from the neck area down to the rest of the body. Signs of lymphoma can include:

  • Enlarged lymph node in the neck, shoulder or chest (most common symptom)
  • Enlarged liver or pain on the upper left side of the abdomen
  • Enlarged spleen or pain on the upper right side of the abdomen
  • Fever not caused by another health problem
  • Itchy skin
  • Lower back pain
  • Night sweats
  • Pain in the involved (swollen) nodes after drinking alcohol
  • Reddened patches on the skin
  • Unexplained weight loss

Non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL) symptoms can include:

  • Cough or shortness of breath
  • Enlarged lymph nodes in the neck, underarm or groin (most common symptom)
  • Extreme fatigue
  • Fever not caused by another health problem
  • Itchy skin
  • Night sweats
  • Pain in the belly or back
  • Reddened patches on the skin
  • Unexplained weight loss

These symptoms may come from many different illnesses. Your doctor must perform a biopsy to confirm a lymphoma diagnosis.

Lymphoma risk factors

Risk factors for Hodgkin lymphoma include:

  • Age: The disease peaks at ages 15-40 and at 55 and older.
  • Exposure to environmental poisons, such as Agent Orange
  • Family history of the disease, although lymphoma has only a slight genetic link
  • Gender: Hodgkin lymphoma is more common in males than females.
  • History of infectious mononucleosis or Epstein-Barr virus
  • Prolonged use of human growth hormone
  • Weakened immune system, including infection with HIV

Non-Hodgkin lymphoma has many of the same risk factors:

  • Age: The likelihood of getting NHL increases as you get older.
  • Bacterial infection: Infection with Helicobacter pylori increases the risk of lymphoma involving the stomach.
  • Gender: NHL is more common in males than females.
  • Daily life: Exposure to farming chemicals or fertilizers, chemicals used to dissolve rubbers or glues, chemicals used to make rubber products, asbestos and arsenic increases the risk of developing NHL.
  • Weakened immune system: NHL is most common among those who have an impaired immune system or a severe autoimmune disease, including those who take medicines to suppress the immune system following an organ transplant.
  • Viral infection: Infection with Epstein-Barr virus or human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) increases the risk of developing NHL.


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Your journey to health starts here. Call 913-588-1227 or request an appointment at The University of Kansas Cancer Center.

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