Lymphoma — a group of blood cancers involving the lymphatic system — can be difficult to detect and diagnose. Many lymphoma symptoms aren’t specific to lymphoma and can be mistaken for other conditions.
The National Cancer Institute reports lymphoma is more common for men. Some lymphoma symptoms may be overlooked in women. Naturally occurring changes associated with menstruation or menopause can also be similar to lymphoma symptoms.
If you’re living with lymphoma, it’s important to recognize symptoms that may be associated with blood cancer and communicate them to your doctor right away. New or worsening lymphoma symptoms may indicate your condition is progressing or that it's time to rethink your treatment plan.
The most common symptoms of lymphoma include:
Continue reading to learn more about why it’s easy to miss even some of the common symptoms of lymphoma.
Fatigue is more than just feeling tired when you haven’t had enough sleep. It’s feeling extremely tired, even when you’ve had plenty of rest. Fatigue can even make it difficult for you to complete your daily tasks. A MyLymphomaTeam member shared, “I can relate to fatigue. I’ve always said ‘tired’ is my middle name. But during and after lymphoma, I slept a lot.” Another commented, “The fatigue is so debilitating.”
Fatigue is one of the most common symptoms of any type of lymphoma. However, fatigue is a general symptom of many medical conditions, medications, or lifestyle habits. If you have lymphoma, your fatigue can be caused by the disease itself, a side effect of lymphoma treatment, or an unrelated health issue.
Lymphoma or its treatment can cause changes in blood count results, including:
If you have anemia, you may feel fatigue because you don’t have enough red blood cells to carry the oxygen your body needs. Other symptoms of anemia include shortness of breath, dizziness, chest pain, and headache.
If you have neutropenia, your immune system is not as strong, so you’re more likely to get an infection that may also cause fatigue. Contact your doctor right away if you experience any symptoms of an infection, such as a fever, chills, a sore throat, or coughing. You may need blood tests to monitor your blood cell counts.
If you receive chemotherapy or radiation therapy, you may feel fatigue during or after your treatment. One MyLymphomaTeam member said, “I am fatigued after radiation, as well. I did start to feel better after my chemo sessions ended.”
Some people continue to experience fatigue for weeks, months, or even years after treatment ends. “I finished chemo 14 months ago and still sometimes get really fatigued. These days, I take it easy and do light exercises,” shared one member.
Talk to your lymphoma care team about the best treatment options if you experience fatigue.
Drenching night sweats are a “B symptom” of both Hodgkin lymphoma and non-Hodgkin lymphoma. It’s important to know whether night sweats are caused by lymphoma because the presence of sweating can inform the stage and outlook of your disease. It may be difficult to identify night sweats as a lymphoma symptom if you’re also going through perimenopause (the time before menstrual periods stop due to changing hormone levels).
Perimenopause usually begins between the ages of 45 and 55. This transition period usually lasts about seven years, but it can be longer. During this time, hot flashes and night sweats are common symptoms.
Almost 1 in 3 people diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma are between the ages of 45 and 64 — the same period when menopause symptoms appear. “I thought I was going through menopause when the night sweats started. I didn’t know then that I had lymphoma,” shared a MyLymphomaTeam member.
Lymphoma usually doesn’t cause pain unless an enlarged lymph node puts pressure on surrounding tissues or nerves. However, if lymphoma affects the bones, it can cause bone pain. Lymphoma may affect your bones if you have primary lymphoma of the bone (a rare type of lymphoma that starts in your bones) or if you have cancer that spreads to your bones. You might also experience pain while recovering from surgery.
Research shows that people of all genders tend to underestimate women’s physical pain. This bias could play a role in how pain is perceived and treated in health care settings. Additionally, most studies on chronic pain have only involved men. As a result, the standard recommendations for painkiller doses are based on male bodies.
“Don’t be afraid or intimidated to request pain medicine that’s going to work for you. One major thing I’ve learned is that we have to advocate, sometimes fiercely, for what we need,” said a MyLymphomaTeam member.
Lymphoma may cause bloating if you have a buildup of fluid in your abdomen or your spleen is enlarged. Bloating and abdominal pressure can also be caused by lymphoma of the genital tract. A MyLymphomaTeam member shared, “I’m almost constantly plagued by a bloated abdomen.”
Bloating can also be caused by what you eat or drink. Cleveland Clinic reports 3 out of 4 women experience bloating before and during their periods. It can also occur during menopause.
Women with primary lymphoma of the genital tract may experience abnormal vaginal bleeding and vaginal discharge.
Any signs of abnormal vaginal bleeding or changes in vaginal discharge should be reported to your doctor. Vaginal bleeding may be considered abnormal if:
It may not be clear if your symptoms are related to lymphoma. These symptoms can be caused by a number of other conditions, such as:
Your doctor can help you determine the cause of any abnormal vaginal bleeding.
Pelvic pain can be caused by tumors that put pressure on tissues or nerves in your pelvis (the lower part of your stomach, near your reproductive organs). Lymphoma symptoms in your reproductive tract may cause pain in this region.
Pelvic pain is often caused by constipation or infections. Pelvic pain related to lymphoma may be confused with pain related to other conditions, such as:
It’s important to closely monitor how you feel during and after your lymphoma diagnosis and treatment. You know your body best and can tell your lymphoma care team when something doesn’t feel right. If you feel that your doctor isn’t listening to you, it’s your right to get a second opinion or switch doctors.
Make sure to report any new or worsening symptoms to your health care team. They need all the details to give you the best care possible, and they’ll be able to help identify what’s causing your symptoms. Your care team may also help you manage any uncomfortable symptoms and improve your quality of life.
MyLymphomaTeam is the social network for people with lymphoma and their loved ones. More than 15,000 members understand what it’s like to live with lymphoma. Members provide support, tips, and answers to each other’s questions.
Have you been diagnosed with lymphoma? Did you recognize your symptoms right away, or were they mistaken for another condition? What helped you get the right diagnosis? Share your experience or post a comment on your Activities page to start a conversation.