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Tests for non Hodgkin lymphoma

Men and women discussing non Hodgkin's lymphoma

This page tells you about tests you may have to find out if you have non Hodgkin lymphoma. You can find the following information

 

A quick guide to what's on this page

Tests for non Hodgkin lymphoma

Most people begin by going to see their GP. Your doctor will ask you about your general health and examine you. They may take a blood test to check your general health. As most causes of enlarged lymph glands are not serious, your doctor may suggest examining you again in a couple of weeks. If the glands stay enlarged your GP may want to refer you to the hospital for tests.

If you are referred to hospital

At the hospital the doctor will examine you again. They will ask you about any other illnesses you have had. You will probably have a chest X-ray and blood tests to check your general health.

Lymph node biopsy

The only way to get a definite diagnosis of the cause of an enlarged lymph node is to remove part or all of it and look at it under a microscope. If the enlarged lymph node is near the surface of your skin, the doctor is likely to remove the whole node. This is called an excision biopsy. It is a small operation, done under local or general anaesthetic.

If the enlarged lymph node is deeper into your body, the doctor may take a sample of tissue from the node using a needle. They may use an ultrasound scan or CT scan to help guide the needle. This is called an ultrasound or CT guided core biopsy. You usually have this under local anaesthetic in the radiology department.

For most people, it is a very anxious time waiting for the biopsy result. It may take about a week for the results to come through. You can talk to your GP in the meantime if you are worried. Your result may be sent to your GP or you may be asked to go back to the hospital to an outpatient clinic.
 

CR PDF Icon You can view and print the quick guides for all the pages in the diagnosing NHL section.

 

 

Visiting your GP

Most people begin by going to see their GP. They are usually worried by an unexplained lump in the neck, armpit or groin. Many people go to their GP with these symptoms, but most of them will not have NHL. A GP will only come across a patient with lymphoma about once every 3 years.

There are referral guidelines for GPs to help them decide which patients with suspected non Hodgkin lymphoma need to be seen urgently by a specialist.

Your doctor will ask you about your health and examine you. They may take some blood to check your general health. As most causes of enlarged glands are not serious, your doctor may suggest examining you again in a couple of weeks. Most enlarged glands will have gone down by then. But if the glands stay enlarged your GP may want to refer you to the hospital for tests.

 

If you are referred to hospital

At the hospital the doctor will examine you again. They will ask you questions about any other illnesses you have had. You will probably have a chest X-ray and blood tests to check your general health.

 

Lymph node biopsy

The only way to get a definite diagnosis of the cause of an enlarged lymph node is to remove part or all of it, and look at it under a microscope. If the enlarged node is near the surface of your skin, the doctor is likely to remove the whole node. This is called an excision biopsy. It is a small operation. Your body has many lymph nodes. Removing 1 or 2 does not usually cause any problems. The biopsy is done under local or general anaesthetic, usually as a day case.

You will have a few stitches where the lymph node has been removed. These will be covered by a dressing. You may go to your GP surgery to have your stitches removed a week to 10 days later.

If the enlarged lymph node is deeper in your body, the doctor may take a sample of tissue from the node using a needle. They may use an ultrasound scan or CT scan to help guide the needle. This is called an ultrasound or CT guided core biopsy. You usually have this under local anaesthetic in the radiology department.

 

Waiting for results

For most people, waiting for the biopsy result is a very anxious time. It may take about a week for the results to come through. You can talk to your GP in the meantime if you are worried.

Your result may be sent to your GP or you may be asked to go back to the hospital to an outpatient clinic.

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Updated: 21 October 2012