Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma: Diagnosis

Common signs and symptoms of NHL include swelling of the lymph nodes (which is often but not always painless), fever, night sweats, unexplained weight loss, and lack of energy. In order for a physician to make an accurate non-Hodgkin lymphoma diagnosis, a patient is required to undergo a number of diagnostic tests.

A biopsy of an affected lymph node or a sample of the tumor is the only way to make a definite diagnosis of NHL. A pathologist (doctor who specializes in diagnosing disease by looking at tumor tissue under the microscope) or a hematopathologist (physician who specializes in diagnosing diseases of the blood) who is experienced in diagnosing lymphoma should review the biopsy. This is because there are several different types of lymphoma, many of which are very uncommon, and special procedures and tests may be needed in order to make an accurate diagnosis. A correct diagnosis is important so that appropriate treatments can be used to effectively treat the patient’s particular type of lymphoma.

Further examinations will then be performed to determine how far the disease has spread (staging) and how well the patient’s body is functioning. The Lugano Classification of the Ann Arbor staging system is used for most NHLs. The physician may use some or all of the following tests as well as the patient’s medical history to assess the course of treatment that has the best chance of rendering either a remission or cure:

  • Abdominal and chest computed tomography (CT) scans
  • Positron emission tomography (PET)/CT scan
  • Blood tests
  • Bone marrow examination

All of the information gained from these tests will help the patient’s healthcare team determine the best course of treatment.

To learn about diagnosis of non-Hodgkin Lymphoma, download the Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma Booklet.