Lymphoma Cancer

What is a Lymphoma Cancer?

Lymphoma is cancer that begins in infection-fighting cells of the immune system, called lymphocytes. These cells are in the lymph nodes, spleen, thymus, bone marrow, and other parts of the body. When you have lymphoma, lymphocytes change and grow out of control.


There are two main types of lymphoma:

  • Non-Hodgkin: Most people with lymphoma have this type.
  • Hodgkin

Non-Hodgkin and Hodgkin lymphoma involve different types of lymphocyte cells. Every type of lymphoma grows at a different rate and responds differently to treatment.


Scientists don’t know what causes lymphoma in most cases.

You might be more at risk if you:

  • Are in your 60s or older for non-Hodgkin lymphoma
  • Are between 15 and 40 or older than 55 for Hodgkin lymphoma
  • Are male, although certain subtypes may be more common in females
  • Have a weak immune system from HIV/AIDS, an organ transplant, or because you were born with an immune disease
  • Have an immune system disease such as rheumatoid arthritis, Sjögren’s syndrome, lupus, or celiac disease
  • Have been infected with a virus such as Epstein-Barr, hepatitis C, or human T-cell leukemia/lymphoma (HTLV-1)
  • Have a close relative who had lymphoma
  • Were exposed to benzene or chemicals that kill bugs and weeds
  • Were treated for Hodgkin or non-Hodgkin lymphoma in the past
  • Were treated for cancer with radiation


Warning signs of lymphoma include:

  • Swollen glands (lymph nodes), often in the neck, armpit, or groin that are painless
  • Cough
  • Shortness of breath
  • Fever
  • Night sweats
  • Fatigue
  • Weight loss
  • Itching

Many of these symptoms can also be warning signs of other illnesses. See your doctor to find out for sure if you have lymphoma.

Getting a Diagnosis

Before you have any tests, your doctor will want to know:

  • How have you been feeling?
  • When did you first notice changes?
  • Do you have pain? Where?
  • How is your appetite?
  • Have you lost any weight?
  • Do you feel tired or weak?
  • What are your current medical problems and treatments?
  • What is your past medical history including conditions and treatments?
  • What is your family medical history?

Your doctor will do a physical exam, including a check for swollen lymph nodes. This symptom doesn’t mean you have cancer. Most of the time, an infection — unrelated to cancer — causes swollen lymph nodes.

You might get a lymph node biopsy to check for cancer cells. For this test, a doctor will remove all or part of a lymph node, or use a needle to take a small amount of tissue from the affected node.

You might also have one of these tests to help diagnose, stage, or manage lymphoma:

  • Bone marrow aspiration or biopsy. Your doctor uses a needle to remove fluid or tissue from your bone marrow — the spongy part inside bone where blood cells are made — to look for lymphoma cells.
  • Chest X-ray. It will be done using low doses of radiation radiation to make images of the inside of your chest.
  • MRI. A technician will use powerful magnets and radio waves to make pictures of organs and structures inside your body.
  • PET scan. This imaging test uses a radioactive substance to look for cancer cells in your body.
  • Molecular test. This test is used to find changes to genes, proteins, and other substances in cancer cells to help your doctor figure out which type of lymphoma you have.
  • Blood tests. These check the number of certain cells, levels of other substances, or evidence of infection in your blood.