Brenda Spriggs, MD, MPH, MBA
Non-Hodgkins lymphoma develops from the rapid, out-of-control growth of cells of the immune system called lymphocytes. Non-Hodgkins lymphoma often begins in the lymph nodes, small organs of the immune system located throughout the body. However, lymphocytes travel all over the body to fight infection, and cancerous lymphocytes can develop in several different organs, including the spleen, liver, lungs and thymus.
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Depending on where in the body non-Hodgkins lymphoma develops, the airways may be affected, which can lead to coughing. Some types of lymphoma develop in the thymus, a small gland that resides in the middle of the chest, just underneath the breast bone. If non-Hodgkins lymphoma occurs in the thymus, it often swells and enlarges. The windpipe, or trachea, runs behind the thymus. In some cases, the thymus swells to the extent that it presses on the windpipe, leading to persistent coughing, according to the American Cancer Society.
Blocked Lymph Vessels
Non-Hodgkins lymphoma may also develop in other parts of the chest, such as the lymph vessels that run through the chest, connecting lymph nodes to each other. When non-Hodgkins lymphoma develops in the lymph vessels, it can block these vessels and prevent lymph fluid from passing through them. Blocked lymph vessels can cause fluid to accumulate around the lungs; this is known as pleural effusion. This swelling around the lungs can cause coughing in patients with non-Hodgkins lymphoma, the Merck Manuals reports.
The available treatments for non-Hodgkins lymphoma include radiation treatment and chemotherapy. Both of these treatment options reduce cancer by killing the rapidly growing lymphocytes. However, the treatments may also kill other rapidly growing cells in the body, leading to serious side effects. When chemotherapy or radiation therapy is administered to the chest or throat area, the cells lining the throat or lungs may be affected, which can cause a persistent, dry cough, according to the Ohio State Cancer Center.