Non-Hodgkin's lymphoma symptoms may include:
- Painless, swollen lymph nodes in your neck, armpits or groin
- Abdominal pain or swelling
- Chest pain, coughing or trouble breathing
- Night sweats
- Weight loss
When to see a doctor
Make an appointment with your doctor if you have any persistent signs and symptoms that worry you.
Doctors aren't sure what causes non-Hodgkin's lymphoma.
Non-Hodgkin's lymphoma occurs when your body produces too many abnormal lymphocytes — a type of white blood cell.
Normally, lymphocytes go through a predictable life cycle. Old lymphocytes die, and your body creates new ones to replace them. In non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, your lymphocytes don't die, but continue to grow and divide. This oversupply of lymphocytes crowds into your lymph nodes, causing them to swell.
B cells and T cells
Non-Hodgkin's lymphoma can begin in the:
B cells. B cells fight infection by producing antibodies that neutralize foreign invaders. Most non-Hodgkin's lymphoma arises from B cells.
Subtypes of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma that involve B cells include diffuse large B-cell lymphoma, follicular lymphoma, mantle cell lymphoma and Burkitt lymphoma.
T cells. T cells are involved in killing foreign invaders directly. Non-Hodgkin's lymphoma occurs less often in T cells.
Subtypes of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma that involve T cells include peripheral T-cell lymphoma and cutaneous T-cell lymphoma.
Whether your non-Hodgkin's lymphoma arises from your B cells or T cells helps to determine your treatment options.
Where non-Hodgkin's lymphoma occurs
Non-Hodgkin's lymphoma generally involves the presence of cancerous lymphocytes in your lymph nodes, but the disease can also spread to other parts of your lymphatic system. These include the lymphatic vessels, tonsils, adenoids, spleen, thymus and bone marrow. Occasionally, non-Hodgkin's lymphoma involves organs outside of your lymphatic system.
In most cases, people diagnosed with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma don't have any obvious risk factors, and many people who have risk factors for the disease never develop it. Some factors that may increase the risk of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma include:
- Medications that suppress your immune system. If you've had an organ transplant, you're more susceptible because immunosuppressive therapy has reduced your body's ability to fight off new illnesses.
- Infection with certain viruses and bacteria. Certain viral and bacterial infections appear to increase the risk of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. Viruses linked to increased non-Hodgkin's lymphoma risk include HIV and Epstein-Barr virus. Bacteria linked to an increased risk of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma include the ulcer-causing Helicobacter pylori.
- Chemicals. Certain chemicals, such as those used to kill insects and weeds, may increase your risk of developing non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. More research is needed to understand the possible link between pesticides and the development of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma.
- Older age. Non-Hodgkin's lymphoma can occur at any age, but the risk increases with age. It's most common in people in their 60s or older.