Brenda Spriggs, MD, MPH, MBA
Lymphoma is a cancer of the lymphatic system. As part of the immune system, your lymphatic system monitors your entire body for invading germs. It consists of a network of specialized tissues that store cells trained to fight against invaders. When people develop lymphoma, the lymphocytes become abnormal and their growth gets out of control. Recognizing the early symptoms of lymphoma helps in catching the cancer in the early stages, when treatment is more likely to be successful.
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Enlarged Lymph Nodes
Small, bean-shaped organs of the lymphatic system are called lymph nodes. They are scattered throughout the body -- some near the skin surface and others deeply embedded in body organs and tissues. With lymphoma, cancerous lymphocytes build up in the nodes, causing them to swell. Swollen lymph nodes beneath the skin may be felt in the armpit, neck and groin. Having 1 or more swollen surface lymph nodes is a common early symptom of lymphoma. Typically, they are not painful. Swollen nodes deep in the body may cause other symptoms. For example, swelling in lung lymph nodes may cause coughing.
Fever that develops in lymphoma is similar to that associated with infection -- except there is no infection to account for the fever. The fever in lymphoma is typically more noticeable in the evening. As the time goes by, it often becomes continuous and more severe. A periodic fever that recurs at different intervals over several weeks may be seen with lymphoma. This characteristic pattern is not common and may not be noticed until after the appearance of other symptoms.
Losing weight for no apparent reason can be an early symptom of lymphoma. This is particularly concerning if you have lost more than 10 percent of your body weight over a 6-month period. The reason for weight loss is partly due to loss of appetite and party due to increase energy expenditure that happens with uncontrolled growth of cells. Weight loss is a symptom for many other cancers.
Drenching night sweats may herald the presence of undiagnosed lymphoma. This symptom is bothersome for some people as they wake up and find their night clothes soaked in sweat. A number of other conditions, including infections and hormone imbalances, can also cause night sweats. These conditions are more prevalent than lymphoma, so it is important to see your doctor to get an accurate diagnosis.
Tiredness over the course of several days and an itching sensation are also considered among early symptoms of lymphoma. Early symptoms of lymphoma are not specific. Many diseases and even normal body reactions can reproduce these same symptoms. You should see your doctor if you are experiencing any of these symptoms, particularly if they persist for a while and do not go away.