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Non-Hodgkin's lymphoma - How do doctors diagnose non-Hodgkin's lymphoma?

BMJ Group Medical Reference

Non-Hodgkin's lymphoma is hard to diagnose. It can be mistaken for many other diseases, including simple infections and other types of cancer.

To get a definite diagnosis you will need to have a biopsy or surgery.[7]

Lymphoma is a complicated disease. Make sure your diagnosis is made by experienced doctors working in a hospital where lots of people with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma are treated.

Once you are diagnosed with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, you will need lots of tests to find out if it has spread. This is called staging. Your doctor will need to know the stage of your lymphoma and the type before they can decide what treatment you need.

To learn more, see Stages of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma and Types of non-Hodgkin's lymphomas.

What your doctor might do

Before diagnosis

Your doctor may ask you lots of questions to try to find out what symptoms you have, how long you have had them, and whether they might be signs of lymphoma. They are also interested in other health problems that might affect your diagnosis or treatment. This will help them to plan the best treatment for you.

Here are some questions you might be asked.[7]

  • When did you first notice the swelling?

  • Have you noticed lumps or swellings anywhere else?

  • Does the swelling come and go or just get bigger?

  • Does it hurt?

  • Does it hurt anywhere else?

  • How are you feeling?

  • Do you get bad sweats at night? Bad enough to soak your night clothes or sheets?

  • Have you lost weight?

  • Do you have any medical problems, such as diabetes, kidney problems, or heart disease?

  • Have you noticed any other changes recently? For example, any change in your bowel movements? Are you getting more out of breath going up the stairs? Have you been getting more headaches?

Your doctor will also examine you for lumps, swellings, and other signs of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. Your doctor will feel any lumps you have noticed, then look for signs of lymphoma in other parts of your body. They may:[7][5]

  • Look in your throat with a small torch

  • Examine your chest and listen to your breathing with a stethoscope

  • Feel your neck, armpits, and groin area

  • Feel your thyroid gland (a small organ at the front of your neck)

  • Feel your abdomen for unusual lumps, a large spleen, or a large liver

  • Examine both your testicles if you are a man

  • Take a good look at your skin, especially any red or itchy areas.

Last Updated: August 06, 2013
This information does not replace medical advice.  If you are concerned you might have a medical problem please ask your Boots pharmacy team in your local Boots store, or see your doctor.
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