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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. If you have swollen lymph glands, your doctor may suggest examining you again in a couple of weeks in case the glands go back to normal. 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 a swollen lymph node is to remove part or all of it and look at it under a microscope. If the 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 anaesthetic or general anaesthetic.

If the swollen 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, 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.
 

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.

Your doctor will ask about your general health and will examine you. They may take some blood tests. As most causes of swollen 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 swollen 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 may have more blood tests to check your general health.

 

Lymph node biopsy

The only way to get a definite diagnosis of the cause of a swollen 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.

 

More about NHL

You can find detailed information about non Hodgkin lymphoma on this website.

If you would like more information about any aspect of non Hodgkin lymphoma, you can phone the Cancer Research UK nurses on freephone 0808 800 4040. The lines are open from 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday. They will be happy to answer any questions that you have.

Our non Hodgkin lymphoma organisations page gives details of other people who can provide information about NHL and its treatment. Some organisations can put you in touch with a cancer support group. They often have free factsheets and information which they can send to you. There are also books, booklets, CDs and other resources available about non Hodgkin lymphoma. Some of these are free. Look at our NHL reading list for details.

If you want to find people to share experiences with online, you could use Cancer Chat, our online forum.

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Updated: 1 September 2014