Lymphoma - Non-Hodgkin - Childhood: Symptoms and Signs

Approved by the Cancer.Net Editorial Board, 11/2022

ON THIS PAGE: You will find out more about the changes and medical problems that can be a sign of childhood non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL). Use the menu to see other pages.

What are the symptoms and signs of childhood NHL?

Children with NHL may experience one or more of the following symptoms or signs. Symptoms are changes that you can feel in your body. Signs are changes in something measured, like taking your blood pressure or doing a lab test. Together, symptoms and signs can help describe a medical problem. Sometimes, children with NHL do not have any of the symptoms and signs described below. Or the cause of a symptom or sign may be a medical condition that is not cancer.

The symptoms of NHL may vary depending on where the cancer starts and the organ(s) involved. General symptoms may include:

  • Swelling or lumps in the lymph nodes located in the neck, underarms, abdomen, or groin. Swollen lymph nodes may join together to form a mass or tumor.

  • Unexplained fever

  • Unexplained weight loss

  • Severe chills and night sweats, usually drenching

  • Extreme fatigue (tiredness)

Symptoms related to the tumor's location may include:

  • A swollen belly, caused by a large tumor in the abdomen

  • Painful urination and bowel movements, caused by fluid buildup and a tumor around the kidneys and intestines

  • Difficulty breathing, caused by a tumor in the chest (mediastinum) near the windpipe

A serious symptom of NHL is superior vena cava syndrome (SVCS). In SVCS, a tumor in the chest behind the breastbone blocks the flow of blood in the vein that carries blood from the head and arms to the heart. This causes the head and arms to swell. SVCS is life-threatening and requires emergency medical attention.

If you are concerned about any of the symptoms or signs on this list, please talk with your child’s health care team. Your doctor will try to understand what is causing your child’s symptom(s). They may do an exam and order tests to understand the cause of the problem, which is called a diagnosis.

If cancer is diagnosed, relieving symptoms is an important part of cancer care and treatment. Managing symptoms may also be called "palliative and supportive care,” which is not the same as hospice care given at the end of life. This type of care focuses on managing symptoms and supporting people who face serious illnesses, such as cancer. You can receive palliative and supportive care at any time during cancer treatment. Learn more in this guide’s section on Coping with Treatment.

Be sure to talk with your child’s health care team about the symptoms your child experiences, including any new symptoms or a change in symptoms.

The next section in this guide is Diagnosis. It explains what tests may be needed to learn more about the cause of the symptoms. Use the menu to choose a different section to read in this guide.