Blood tests look for markers in the blood that may indicate non-Hodgkin lymphoma. Blood tests alone cannot diagnose lymphoma, but they can help with diagnosis.

Non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL) begins in the lymphatic system. Some people with a diagnosis of NHL will also have lymphoma cells in their bone marrow. This can cause various symptoms, including anemia, swollen lymph nodes, or a rash.

A doctor may order blood tests to look for a low blood cell count or other signs. If results confirm this, they may suspect lymphoma and recommend a lymph node biopsy.

This article explains how blood tests can detect non-Hodgkin lymphoma and the types of tests, procedures, and results.

What are the symptoms of lymphoma?

An image of a collection of blood tests on a counter. Healthcare professionals use blood tests for diagnosing and treating non-Hodgkin-lymphoma.Share on Pinterest
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Blood tests play a role in the initial stages of diagnosis and also as treatment progresses. Blood tests alone cannot diagnose non-Hodgkin lymphoma or other lymphomas, but they may detect related issues.

A 2017 study analyzed the symptoms of lymphoma in 81 people. Results indicate that a detailed medical history and blood tests may help diagnose the disease.

Blood tests can also:

  • show whether lymphoma is progressing in the body
  • reveal how well treatment is working
  • provide clues about the individual’s general health

If a doctor suspects lymphoma, a doctor will also recommend a biopsy and imaging tests.

What is the difference between Hodgkin and non-Hodgkin lymphoma?

Blood tests are usually low risk procedures that take a few minutes. They often take place at a laboratory or in a doctor’s office.


A person should ask the doctor beforehand if they need to fast before a blood test, and when they can expect to receive the results.

A person can usually eat and drink before a blood test.

However, blood tests to check liver and kidney function will measure various chemicals. A person may need to fast before these tests, as food or drink may affect the balance of these chemicals, leading to inaccurate results.

A doctor will inform the person how long they need to go without eating and drinking. They may also advise a person to drink water before the test to ensure the blood flow will be sufficient.

What is a liver function test?

During the test

During a blood test, the person will sit in a chair while a medical professional inserts a needle into a vein in their arm and draws blood.

The health professional will likely:

  1. Secure a rubber band around the arm to help them see the veins more clearly.
  2. Clean the area with an alcohol swab.
  3. Insert the needle into a vein, at which the person might feel a pinch that lasts for a few seconds.
  4. Attach a small bottle or syringe to the needle and draw blood to fill one or more small containers.
  5. During collection, the phlebotomist may release the band to allow blood to flow more easily.
  6. Release the band and remove the needle.
  7. Press an absorbent pad on the injection site and apply a dressing.

Obtaining the sample for a blood test usually takes only a few minutes.


A person may feel lightheaded after giving blood. The health professional will likely advise them to remain seated until the feeling passes.

They will then label the blood samples and send them to the lab for analysis.

Blood tests are generally safe, but people can discuss any potential concerns with their doctor beforehand.

A person should contact their doctor if they experience signs of infection at the injection site. These include inflammation, swelling, and fever.

Rarely, excessive bleeding may occur. People should let their doctor know if they use anticoagulant drugs (sometimes called blood thinners) or have an underlying condition that causes excessive bleeding.

A typical blood panel for non-Hodgkin lymphoma includes the following tests:

A complete blood count (CBC)

A complete blood count (CBC) is a blood test that measures the different components in the blood.

A person with a recent diagnosis of non-Hodgkin lymphoma may have a low blood cell count. If lymphoma is growing in the bone marrow, it could affect new blood cell formation.

A CBC can help detect the following conditions, which can occur with non-Hodgkin lymphoma:

These can be signs that lymphoma is affecting the bone marrow or spleen. They can also indicate blood loss due to gastrointestinal tract involvement.

Blood chemistry tests

Doctors use a group of tests called chemistry panels to assess a person’s blood. These tests can provide information about an individual’s general health. They can also detect and measure levels of antibodies, proteins, and other chemical substances.

Liver panels or liver function tests might help a doctor diagnose advanced non-Hodgkin lymphoma. This type of test looks for low albumin levels to assess how well a person’s kidneys and liver are working.

An individual’s liver and kidneys can usually cope with high levels of chemicals by filtering them and removing them in waste. If lymphoma affects how these organs work, an imbalance of chemicals may result.

Lactic dehydrogenase (LDH)

If a person has a lymphoma diagnosis, a doctor may check their lactic dehydrogenase (LDH) level. Doctors use LDH tests to monitor lymphoma and other conditions that can cause tissue damage.

A 2021 study suggests LDH levels are often higher in patients with non-Hodgkin lymphoma.

C-reactive protein (CRP)

The liver produces C-reactive protein (CRP) in response to inflammation. High levels of CRP in the blood may indicate inflammation and can be a sign of lymphoma.

However, CRP levels can be high for many reasons. A high level does not necessarily mean a person has lymphoma.

Sometimes, a person will have their blood test results on the same day, but it can take several days.

Results above or below the accepted ranges may indicate lymphoma. Higher levels of certain blood proteins can also be a sign of more advanced lymphoma.

People should always discuss their blood tests with a health professional trained to interpret the results in the context of the person’s wider medical history.

Blood test results can have different meanings, depending on the individual’s situation.

What is advanced lymphoma?

Together with biopsies, blood tests can help diagnose lymphoma. They can show if substances in the blood are at unusual levels, which might indicate lymphoma.

Blood tests can also help rule out the other possible causes of symptoms.

Only a biopsy can show if a person has lymphoma, but blood tests can give clues that provide a fuller picture.