As one of two primary categories of lymphatic cancer, Hodgkin's lymphoma (HL) attacks the patient's white blood cells, called lymphocytes. Hodgkin's lymphoma typically progresses in an orderly fashion from one group of lymph nodes to another, while it's cousin, non-Hodgkin's lymphoma (NHL) describes a number of diseases with different spread rates and patterns.
Understanding how the signs and symptoms of Hodgkin's lymphoma differ from those of NHL can help identify the disease early, although only a qualified oncologist can make a definitive diagnosis.
Some of the external signs and symptoms of Hodgkin's lymphoma include:
- Swollen or enlarged lymph nodes - The most common symptom, lymphadenopathy most frequently involves the nodes in the neck and shoulders. Nodes in the chest can also be involved, and are usually detected with a chest radiograph. Nodes are sometimes rubbery in feel and do not hurt when palpated.
- Unexplained weight loss - Can sometimes cause the loss of ten percent or more of a patient's body weight.
- Fever and chills - Known as a Pel-Ebstein fever, there is some debate whether this is a true symptom.
- Night sweats
- Loss of appetite
- Back pain - Non-specific, but often localized to the lower back.
Night sweats, fever, and weight loss are called B symptoms and are indicative of systemic involvement.
In addition to these signs, there may be more indicative symptoms upon internal investigation by chest scan or other radiographic technique, including:
- Swollen liver, spleen, or both - About 30 percent of patients display an enlargement of the spleen, but it is not typically significant, and may in fact change over the course of treatment. If the liver has become involved, it may present as swelling, as happens in about five percent of cases.
- Lowered platelet count
An additional classical presentation symptom is pain following the consumption of alcohol. It only occurs in two to three percent of patients with HL, so is highly non-sensitive, but it is considered a highly specific sign, meaning that it alone is enough to provide a positive HL diagnosis. The pain is localized to a particular lymph node and appears within minutes of consuming alcohol. It can be a sharp, stabbing pain or a dull, aching one.
Many of the signs and symptoms of Hodgkin's lymphoma may not be cause for alarm on their own, but if you have or suspect you may have any of them, it's a good idea to see a doctor, who should be able to determine whether further action is necessary.