If you have swollen lymph nodes or another symptom that suggests non-Hodgkin lymphoma, your doctor will try to find out what's causing the problem. Your doctor may ask about your personal and family medical history.
You may have some of the following exams and tests:
- Physical exam: Your doctor checks for swollen lymph nodes in your neck, underarms, and groin. Your doctor also checks for a swollen spleen or liver.
- Blood tests: The lab does a complete blood count to check the number of white blood cells. The lab also checks for other cells and substances, such as lactate dehydrogenase (LDH). Lymphoma may cause a high level of LDH.
- Chest x-rays: You may have x-rays to check for swollen lymph nodes or other signs of disease in your chest.
- Biopsy: A biopsy is the only sure way to diagnose lymphoma. Your doctor may remove an entire lymph node (excisional biopsy) or only part of a lymph node (incisional biopsy). A thin needle (fine needle aspiration) usually cannot remove a large enough sample for the pathologist to diagnose lymphoma. Removing an entire lymph node is best. The pathologist uses a microscope to check the tissue for lymphoma cells.
- How will the biopsy be done?
- Where will I have my biopsy?
- Will I have to do anything to prepare for it?
- How long will it take? Will I be awake? Will it hurt?
- Are there any risks? What are the chances of swelling, infection, or bleeding after the biopsy?
- How long will it take me to recover?
- How soon will I know the results? Who will explain them to me?
- If I do have cancer, who will talk to me about next steps? When?
Types of Non-Hodgkin LymphomaWhen lymphoma is found, the pathologist reports the type. There are many types of lymphoma. The most common types are diffuse large B-cell lymphoma and follicular lymphoma.
Lymphomas may be grouped by how quickly they are likely to grow:
- Indolent (also called low-grade) lymphomas grow slowly. They tend to cause few symptoms.
- Aggressive (also called intermediate-grade and high-grade) lymphomas grow and spread more quickly. They tend to cause severe symptoms. Over time, many indolent lymphomas become aggressive lymphomas.