Non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL)

Non-Hodgkin lymphoma (or NHL for short) is a type of cancer that starts in the lymph nodes, also called ‘glands’. These are all over your body and their job is to help you fight off infections, like sore throats or earache. 

What does it feel like?

The glands in your neck, chest or under your armpit might swell up. This normally doesn’t hurt but it lasts for a long time. 

If the swelling is in your chest, you might find it hard to breathe, or you might have a cough that doesn’t go away. If the swelling is in your tummy it might hurt, you might have trouble going to the toilet or need to poo more often. 

You might also lose weight, have a fever or feel tired. 

How is it diagnosed?

You will probably have a biopsy which meants the doctor takes out part of the swollen gland and looks at the cells under a microscope. They will numb the area or put you to sleep so it does not hurt.

You might also need a scan, when you lie still in a special machine that takes pictures of the inside of your body. You will not feel anything so there is no need to worry about anything, other than keeping still! 

Or you might have a blood test, when the specialists take a sample of your blood and look at it under a microscope. 

Will I need medicine and treatment?

NHL is normally treated with chemotherapy, which is medicine to kill the lymphoma cells. Most children with NHL need to have chemotherapy for a long time. If chemotherapy does not kill all the cancer, or if it comes back after your treatment, you might be given stronger chemotherapy.

What will treatment feel like?

Chemotherapy might make you feel more tired and poorly than usual. It can make you feel a bit sick, change how much you need the toilet and you might lose your hair while you’re on treatment.

This all might sound a bit scary, but it is very normal and part of helping you get better. If you are worried, you can talk to your nurse or doctor, or a family member.

What will happen afterwards?

When your treatment has finished, you will still need to keep seeing a doctor to make sure your cancer is staying away and that your body continues to work properly after the treatment. Sometimes, people will need to continue having help, but lots of people get better without any problems.

Will I get ill again?

Some treatments can affect your chances of being able to have children later in life but you should talk to your specialist if you are worried. Many people will not have any problems at all.

Content updated October 2015, next planned review 2018.

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