Non-Hodgkin lymphoma symptoms may vary depending on cancer location but do not vary depending on a person’s sex. Common symptoms in females can therefore include lymph node swelling, fatigue, and weight loss.

The American Cancer Society (ACS) explains that lymphoma affects the body’s lymphatic system, which moves lymph fluid through the body, helping to fight infections as part of the immune system.

Lymphomas can start anywhere in the body where lymph tissue is present. There are many different types of non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL), and doctors typically classify them according to whether they affect B cells or T cells or how fast they grow and spread. B cells and T cells are lymphocytes.

NHL is one of the most common cancers in the United States, accounting for around 4% of all cancers.

This article discusses NHL symptoms and how doctors treat them. In addition, it outlines when to contact a doctor.

A note about sex and gender

Sex and gender exist on spectrums. This article will use the terms “male,” “female,” or both to refer to sex assigned at birth. Click here to learn more.

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NHL symptoms do not differ between males or females, and no NHL symptoms are specific to females. The following section discusses NHL signs and symptoms that can affect females and males.

The condition can cause many different symptoms depending on the type of lymphoma and where it is in the body.

The ACS advises that sometimes NHL may not cause any symptoms until it grows larger. The ACS also notes that having one or more symptoms does not mean that someone definitely has lymphoma. Other conditions, such as infection, may cause similar symptoms.

Common signs and symptoms of non-Hodgkin lymphoma

Common symptoms of NHL may include:

Additionally, some people with NHL may experience:

  • drenching night sweats
  • losing at least 10% of their body weight over 6 months without trying
  • fever without an infection which may come and go over several days or weeks

Symptoms of lymphoma in the abdomen

Lymphomas may start to grow in the abdomen and affect other organs, such as the spleen and liver. They may cause the following symptoms:

Symptoms of lymphoma in the chest

Lymphoma may start in the thymus or lymph nodes in the chest, causing the following symptoms:

If the lymphoma presses on the superior vena cava (SVC), which is a vein, it may alter the flow of blood and lead to swelling in the head, arms, and upper chest. Doctors call this SVC syndrome, it is potentially life threatening and a medical emergency.

Symptoms of lymphoma in the skin

Some people may see and feel lymphomas in the skin. They may notice the following:

  • tumors or nodules
  • papules, which are small, pimple-like lesions
  • plaques, which are thick, raised, or lowered lesions
  • patches, which are flat lesions

Skin lymphomas may appear as a rash and are often itchy and red to purple in color.

Symptoms of lymphoma affecting the brain

Primary brain lymphomas may affect the areas around the brain and spinal cord, producing symptoms such as:

Cancer resources

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The way doctors and oncologists treat NHL depends on the type, how advanced it is, and other factors. Treatment may include:

A person should contact a doctor if they have any symptoms of NHL. In many cases, another condition may be causing a person’s symptoms. A healthcare professional can identify the cause of a person’s symptoms and recommend appropriate treatment.

The ACS advises people with risk factors for NHL to arrange regular medical checkups by a doctor. The following groups may have a higher risk of developing the condition:

  • people aged 60 and over
  • males, but certain types of NHL are more common in females
  • in the U.S., white Americans are more likely to develop NHL than African Americans and Asian Americans
  • people who have a first-degree relative (parent, child, sibling) with NHL
  • people who are exposed to certain chemicals
  • people who have had radiation therapy
  • people who have received organ transplants
  • people living with HIV and some genetic syndromes
  • people living with certain autoimmune diseases
  • people who have experienced certain infections
  • people with obesity or more weight
  • people with breast implants are more at risk of developing a rare type of NHL called breast implant-associated anaplastic large cell lymphoma

People should speak with a healthcare professional to find out more about their individual risk of developing NHL.

NHL is a form of cancer affecting the immune system and does not have symptoms specific to females. NHL may cause varying symptoms depending on where it develops in the body, its type, and how advanced it is.

People who notice any symptoms of NHL should speak with a doctor. Other conditions may cause similar symptoms and a healthcare professional can identify whether a person’s symptoms are due to NHL or another condition. They can also recommend appropriate treatment.