Lymphoma, Non Hodgkin

Non Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL) is a cancer which originates in the lymphatic system. Lymph nodes are all around the body and are connected by lymphatic vessels. This means that NHL can start in any part of the body although it does tend to originate from lymph nodes in the neck. Other common sites include the groin, armpit and chest. The first sign of NHL is usually a swelling of a group of lymph nodes somewhere in the body.

Things to look out for

Symptoms include but are not limited to:

  • Swollen glands for several weeks (usually painless)
  • Weight loss
  • Fatigue
  • High temperatures or fevers including sweats or ‘drenching’ at night time
  • Continuous itchiness all over the body
  • Shortness of breath, a cough and/or difficulty swallowing

If the glands in the chest become very large you may develop some problems with breathing, a cough and/or a puffy face and neck. If glands in the abdomen are affected this may cause some blockage of the bowel, in which case an operation to remove it may be needed.

In a few people with NHL, lymphoma cells may be found in the bone marrow, or in the fluid around the spinal cord (cerebrospinal fluid). When non Hodgkin lymphoma is affecting the bone marrow you may experience:

  • Fatigue and or shortness of breath
  • Ongoing or recurring infections
  • Abnormal bruising or bleeding such as excessive nosebleeds, unexplained small spots of blood under the skin or, in women, heavier periods

The causes of NHL are largely unknown. However, people who have deficiencies of the immune system, or who have used immune-suppressing drugs for a long time, are at an increased risk of having NHL. Some viruses or bacteria can increase the risk, as can a close relative who has had the disease.