Symptoms of Hodgkin lymphoma

The most common symptom of Hodgkin lymphoma is a painless swelling in one or more lymph nodes Open a glossary item. This can be in any area of the body, but the most common areas are the:

  • neck

  • armpit

  • 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. 

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

  • persistent cough or shortness of breath

  • pain in your tummy (abdomen) or lymph nodes after drinking alcohol

Your doctor might call some of these symptoms B symptoms.

See your GP if you have any of these symptoms. But remember that many of these symptoms can be caused by other conditions.

Less common 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. This is called oedema

  • cause yellowing of the skin and eyes. This is jaundice

  • cause small lumps or ulcers on your skin, usually near the swollen lymph nodes

Hodgkin lymphoma in the bone marrow

Around 5 out of 100 people (around 5%) with Hodgkin lymphoma have lymphoma cells in their bone marrow. The bone marrow is a spongy substance that fills the bones and contains early cells called stem cells. Hodgkin lymphoma in the bone marrow can cause symptoms such as:

  • shortness of breath and tiredness due to low levels of red blood cells Open a glossary item (anaemia)
  • increased risk of infections due to low levels of white blood cells Open a glossary item
  • low levels of platelets Open a glossary item that can cause nosebleeds, very heavy periods, or a rash of tiny blood spots under the skin 
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. Last updated October 2023

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

Last reviewed: 
14 Jun 2024
Next review due: 
14 Jun 2027

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