Symptoms of lymphoma can develop anywhere on your body, including under your arms. Lymphoma is a cancer of the lymphatic system, so it makes sense that symptoms can affect your armpits. Lymph nodes are an important part of the lymphatic system, and many are located under your arms.
Read on to learn how to recognize and manage lymphoma symptoms that may develop under your arms.
Enlarged lymph nodes in your armpit are a common early symptom of the two main types of lymphoma — Hodgkin lymphoma and non-Hodgkin lymphoma. Lymphoma causes a buildup of cancer cells in your lymph nodes, which get bigger. You may have swollen lymph nodes in other parts of your body, not just your armpits.
MyLymphomaTeam members have shared their experiences with swollen lymph nodes. “I have early-stage lymphoma with no treatment suggested yet,” one member wrote. “My symptoms are swollen sore lymph nodes in my armpits and groin and a hard, swollen, painless lymph node under my jawline.”
The lymph nodes in your armpit are close to the surface of your skin, so they can be easier to see than swollen lymph nodes elsewhere. A swollen lymph node may show up as a lump under your skin.
A swollen lymph node caused by lymphoma may be:
When you start lymphoma treatment, your lymph nodes should get smaller. However, if you’re self-conscious about a visible lump in your armpit, you may wish to wear loose-fitting tops that cover your arms. It can also be helpful to tell people you’re close to about your swollen lymph nodes.
Swollen lymph nodes caused by lymphoma usually don’t hurt. However, a swollen lymph node may cause pain if it grows large enough to push against surrounding tissues and nerves. A MyLymphomaTeam member shared, “For the last few months, I feel pain under my arms. It comes and goes.”
For about 5 percent of people with Hodgkin’s lymphoma, drinking alcohol leads to painful lymph nodes. Researchers don’t fully understand why this happens, but they think it may occur because alcohol makes the lymph node’s blood vessels expand.
Your lymphoma care team may prescribe pain medication to help you manage discomfort until your lymphoma treatment causes your lymph nodes to shrink. Other ways to help you manage your pain include:
Talk to your cancer care team to find out the most appropriate treatment options for your pain.
Cutaneous T-cell lymphomas (skin lymphomas) can cause rashes that can affect your armpit. These conditions include mycosis fungoides and Sézary syndrome.
If you have mycosis fungoides, a type of non-Hodgkin T-cell lymphoma of the skin, you may develop a rash in your armpit. This condition tends to develop in areas that aren’t exposed to the sun, which also include the upper thigh, groin, and breasts. Mycosis fungoides can cause the following symptoms:
Mycosis fungoides is often confused with other skin diseases, such as eczema, and shares characteristics of another type of cutaneous T-cell lymphoma — Sézary syndrome. This rare condition can affect the skin all over your body, including your armpits, causing discoloration, itchiness, peeling, and pain.
Your doctor or a dermatologist can help determine whether lymphoma, eczema, or another skin condition is causing your rash. If your armpit rash is caused by lymphoma, it should improve after you start cancer treatment. Your doctor may also prescribe topical corticosteroids — creams or ointments that you apply to your skin to relieve inflammation and discoloration.
You may have itchy skin near a swollen lymph node in your armpit. Itching usually isn’t associated with a rash when it isn’t caused by lymphoma of the skin. You may notice that itching gets worse when it’s hot or at night when you’re trying to sleep.
Itchiness can develop when your immune system reacts to lymphoma by releasing chemicals that can irritate your skin. You could also feel a burning sensation.
Itching caused by lymphoma usually gets better shortly after you start treatment. Meanwhile, you can try these tips to manage itchiness:
If your itching is intense and ongoing — and especially if it involves bumps — ask your doctor about prurigo nodularis. This extremely itchy skin condition can be associated with cancers.
You may notice excessive sweating in your armpits or other parts of the body if you have any type of lymphoma. Sweating can occur at any time, but it’s most common at night — called night sweats.
Sweating is a common symptom of all types of lymphoma. If you have lymphoma, cancer cells can release chemicals that cause you to sweat. You may also sweat more if you have a fever or an infection. Chemotherapy for lymphoma can sometimes trigger early menopause, another cause of excessive sweating and night sweats.
Excessive sweating may get better after you complete your lymphoma treatment, but sometimes it can continue for a while.
MyLymphomaTeam members have shared their experiences with sweating. “I had profuse sweating at random times during the day,” wrote one member. “I was sweating so badly that I had to keep a change of clothes at work. My shirt, T-shirt, pants, and underwear would be soaked. It was most embarrassing when it happened at work or during a meeting. Now it happens about once a month. I’ve been in remission for 18 months.”
Keeping a change of clothes or dressing in layers that you can quickly peel off may help you cope with excessive sweating. You can also try these strategies:
Your doctor may order a lymph node biopsy to help diagnose lymphoma. During this procedure, a doctor will remove part or all of a lymph node to be examined under a microscope. The results can give your lymphoma care team more information about your type and stage of lymphoma. The wound from a biopsy usually heals in seven to 10 days.
Possible risks of a lymph node biopsy include:
Talk to your lymphoma care team about how to care for your biopsy wound after surgery. They may suggest taking a particular pain medication or advise you on what to do if bleeding occurs. If your wound doesn’t heal as expected or you notice signs of infection, contact your cancer care team.
If you notice new or worsening symptoms under your arms or anywhere else, let your lymphoma care team know right away. Closely monitoring your symptoms and how they change over time can help your care team identify potentially serious problems before they get worse. Additionally, your care team can suggest treatment options to help you manage any uncomfortable symptoms and feel as comfortable as possible while living with lymphoma.
MyLymphomaTeam is the social network for people with lymphoma and their loved ones. More than 15,000 members understand what it’s like to face lymphoma and can provide support and answers.
Have you experienced any lymphoma symptoms under your arms? Do you have tips for managing pain, itching, or excessive sweating? Share your experience or post a comment on your Activities page to start a conversation.