Lymphoma Diagnosis

There are no screening tests that find Hodgkin's disease or non-Hodgkin's lymphoma early in its course and some people with the disease show no symptoms at all. The signs and symptoms of lymphoma may vary depending on the location of the lymph tissue that is involved with the disease. Since enlarged lymph nodes are the primary sign, the diagnosis of lymphoma may be delayed because enlarged lymph nodes commonly occur with infections. Doctors often observe swollen nodes over a period of weeks to look for changes or reductions in size. Some of the most common early symptoms of lymphoma may be:

  • Enlarged painless lymph nodes
  • Swelling of lymph nodes inside the body, which creates pressure on organs or body parts near them
  • Symptoms such as coughing, shortness of breath, swelling in the abdomen, intestinal blockage, and abdominal pain

In addition to the local signs related directly to the enlarged lymph nodes, patients may also experience:

  • Fever
  • Drenching night sweats
  • Weight loss
  • Itching
  • Tiredness
  • Decreased appetite

If the lymph node does not resolve on its own and doctors suspect lymphoma, they will most likely perform a physical exam and a biopsy, where either a small piece of the node or, more commonly, the entire node is removed for examination under the microscope. PET/CT scans can help doctors select a site for biopsy when the first suspected site is not easily accessible. PET/CT scanning is also used by physicians to characterize the extent of lymphoma spread.

PET/CT scans can help physicians select an appropriate site to biopsy.