Childhood non-Hodgkin lymphoma

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Symptoms of childhood non-Hodgkin lymphoma

The signs or symptoms of childhood non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL) may vary depending on where the cancer is in the body. Other health conditions can cause the same symptoms as childhood NHL.

The most common symptom of childhood NHL is swollen, or enlarged, lymph nodes in the neck, above the collarbone, in the chest (mediastinal mass) causing breathing problems, in the abdomen or in the groin. The enlarged lymph nodes are usually painless. Some children may have abdominal pain related to swollen lymph nodes in or near their bowels.

B symptoms

Sometimes NHL can cause generalized symptoms, or systemic, symptoms. This group of symptoms is referred to as B symptoms. They include fever, night sweats and weight loss. The fever usually has no obvious cause. The child’s temperature may be high for several days, or it may switch between normal and below normal for days or weeks. The night sweats are so heavy that the child’s bedding or clothes are wet and need to be changed. Weight loss is of at least 10% of body weight over 6 months.

Symptoms by location of disease

Childhood NHL can cause different signs and symptoms depending on where it is in the body.


Childhood NHL in the abdomen can cause:

  • a lump or swelling in the abdomen
  • tenderness or pain in the abdomen
  • change in bowel habits, such as constipation or diarrhea
  • nausea or vomiting
  • loss of appetite


Childhood NHL in the mediastinum, or chest, can cause:

  • shortness of breath
  • chest pain
  • trouble breathing, which may be worse when the child lies on their back and get better when the child sits up or lies on their side or front
  • wheezing
  • high-pitched breathing sounds
  • cough
  • enlarged lymph nodes in the chest or neck or under the arms
  • a general feeling of discomfort or illness (called malaise)
  • superior vena cava syndrome (SVCS)

SVCS is life-threatening and needs to be treated right away. It occurs when the superior vena cava (the large vein that carries blood from the head, neck, arms and chest to the heart) is compressed by a tumour. This group of symptoms includes coughing, difficulty breathing, headache, dizziness, fainting and swelling or flushing of the neck, face and upper arms. Find out more about superior vena cava syndrome.


Childhood NHL in the skin can cause red or purple lumps under the skin that are itchy.

Head and neck

Childhood NHL in the head or neck can cause:

  • enlarged lymph nodes in the neck
  • stuffy nose
  • enlarged tonsils
  • earache
  • hearing loss

Central nervous system

Some types of childhood NHL, such as childhood NHL in the head or neck, can spread to the brain and spinal cord (called the central nervous system, or CNS). Childhood NHL that has spread to the CNS can cause:

  • headaches
  • vomiting, with or without nausea
  • double vision or trouble seeing
  • confusion and difficulty concentrating
  • personality changes
  • seizures
  • trouble moving parts of the body
  • back pain
  • difficulty urinating or passing stool
  • numbness or tingling in the fingers or toes

Bone marrow

Childhood NHL that has spread to the bone marrow can cause:

  • infections that don’t go away or keep coming back
  • bleeding or easy bruising
  • low blood cell counts
  • fatigue
  • paleness
  • shortness of breath


The space in the chest between the lungs, breastbone and spine that contains the heart, great blood vessels, thymus, trachea (windpipe), esophagus and lymph nodes.


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