The most common symptom of Hodgkin lymphoma is a painless swelling in a lymph node. This can be in an area of the body such as the neck, armpit or groin. 

Lymph nodes commonly swell if we have an infection but they usually go back to normal over a short time. With lymphoma, the lymph nodes often grow slowly and may be there for months or years before they're noticed. But sometimes they grow very quickly.

Usually, the swollen nodes don't hurt. But some people say their lumps ache or are painful. And for some they are painful after drinking alcohol. 

Other general symptoms

You might have other symptoms such as:

  • heavy sweating, especially at night
  • high temperatures that come and go with no obvious cause, often overnight
  • losing a lot of weight over a short period of time, despite eating well
  • itching, which may be worse after drinking alcohol
  • cough or shortness of breath
  • tummy (abdominal) pain or vomiting after drinking alcohol

Hodgkin lymphoma in the bone marrow

Some people have Hodgkin lymphoma in their bone marrow when they're diagnosed. If you have this, it can cause the following symptoms:

  • shortness of breath and tiredness because of anaemia from a low red blood cell count
  • increased risk of infections because of a low white cell count
  • bleeding problems such as nosebleeds, very heavy periods, or a rash of tiny blood spots under the skin because of a low platelet count

Other possible symptoms

Other symptoms will depend on where in your body the Hodgkin lymphoma is. Swollen lymph nodes can:

  • press on nerves and cause pain
  • cause swelling in arms or legs by blocking the flow of lymphatic fluid around the body
  • cause yellowing of the skin and eyes (jaundice) by blocking the flow of bile from the liver

None of these are common symptoms, but they can happen. You may also have small lumps (nodules) on your skin, usually near the swollen lymph nodes.

When to see your doctor

You should see your doctor if you have a swollen lymph node, especially if you haven't had a recent infection, or you have any of the other symptoms mentioned here.

Although your symptoms are unlikely to be cancer, it's important to get them checked by a doctor.

  • Cancer and its Management (7th edition)
    J Tobias and D Hochhauser
    Wiley-Blackwell, 2015

  • Suspected cancer: recognition and referral
    National Institute of Health and Care Excellence (NICE), June 2015

  • Essential Haematology (8th edition)
    V Hoffbrand and D Steensma
    Wiley Blackwell, 2019

Last reviewed: 
17 Sep 2020
Next review due: 
17 Sep 2023

Related links