Canadian Cancer Society logo

Non-Hodgkin lymphoma

You are here: 

Signs and symptoms of non-Hodgkin lymphoma

A sign is something that can be observed and recognized by a doctor or healthcare professional (for example, a rash). A symptom is something that only the person experiencing it can feel and know (for example, pain or tiredness). The signs and symptoms of non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL) can also be caused by other health conditions. It is important to have any unusual symptoms checked by a doctor.

Signs and symptoms of NHL include:

  • swollen (enlarged) lymph nodes in the neck, armpit (axilla) or groin – the most common symptom
    • Swollen lymph nodes are usually painless. However, they can eventually put pressure on surrounding tissue or organs and cause discomfort or pain.
    • Swollen lymph nodes are common and can be caused by other health problems, such as an infection or the flu. However, these nodes are generally small in size. If they are swollen due to infection, the nodes may be tender or painful.
  • skin rash or itchy skin (pruritus)
  • unexplained fatigue

Some symptoms of NHL are generalized and affect the whole body. These are called systemic symptoms or B symptoms and include:

  • unexplained fever – temperature over 38°C, without an obvious cause, that can last for weeks
  • drenching night sweats – so much sweat that nightwear or sheets are wet and may have to be changed
  • unexplained weight loss – loss of more than 10% of original body weight within the last 6 months

B symptoms are usually associated with more extensive disease. Their presence can play a role in treatment decisions.

Signs and symptoms according to the location of disease

NHL can cause other signs and symptoms depending on the part of the body affected.

  • NHL affecting the chest may cause:
    • shortness of breath
    • cough
  • NHL affecting the abdomen may cause:
    • indigestion
    • a lump or swelling in the abdomen
    • abdominal tenderness, discomfort or pain
    • nausea or vomiting
    • loss of appetite
    • enlarged liver or spleen
    • anemiaanemiaA reduction in the number of healthy red blood cells. due to chronic bleeding in the gastrointestinalgastrointestinalReferring to or having to do with the digestive organs, particularly the stomach, small intestine and large intestine. (GI) tract, such as the stomach or intestines
  • NHL affecting the brain (CNS lymphoma) may cause:
    • headaches
    • difficulty thinking
    • trouble moving parts of the body
    • personality changes
    • seizures
  • NHL affecting the bone marrow may cause:
    • low blood counts
    • recurring or constant infections
    • bleeding or increased bruising


Marie Whitehead Catch the cancer early. That’s the number one thing. It could save your life.

Read Marie's story

Facing the financial burden of cancer

Illustration of coins

The Canadian Cancer Society provides helpful information about government income programs, financial resources and other resources available to families struggling to make sense of the personal financial burden they face.

Learn more