What is Non-Hodgkin lymphoma in Children?

Non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL) is a cancer of the lymphatic system. The lymphatic system is a network of organs, tissues, and vessels that play a crucial role in the body’s immune system. It works to filter out germs and foreign substances and helps protect your body from infections.

The type of NHL that affects children most often is non-Hodgkin lymphoma. NHL is more common in teenagers, but it can affect people of any age. NHL is most often found in the lymph nodes, but it can also spread to other parts of the body.

What are the symptoms of non-Hodgkin lymphoma in children?

Non-Hodgkin lymphoma in children can cause a wide range of symptoms. Symptoms depend on whether it’s in the lymph nodes or other parts of the body.

Lymph nodes

Symptoms of non-Hodgkin lymphoma in the lymph nodes can include:

  • Swelling of the lymph nodes
  • Pain or aching in the lymph nodes
  • Feeling full after eating
  • Feeling tired or weak
  • A lump or swelling in the lymph nodes
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Shortness of breath
  • Coughing
  • Fever

Other organs

Symptoms of non-Hodgkin lymphoma in other parts of the body can include:

  • Sore throat
  • Bruising
  • Feeling tired
  • Problems swallowing
  • Weight loss
  • Headaches
  • Joint swelling
  • Fatigue
  • Feeling sick with nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea
  • Mouth sores
  • Abdominal pain
  • Muscle aches

When should I call my child’s healthcare provider?

If your child has these symptoms, make an appointment with their healthcare provider.

  • Bleeding
  • Swelling
  • Pain
  • Feeling full
  • A lump or swelling that doesn’t go away or gets worse
  • A rash

How is non-Hodgkin lymphoma diagnosed in children?

Your child’s healthcare provider will ask about your child’s symptoms and health history. They will do a physical exam. Your child’s medical history will also be reviewed. During the exam, your child’s healthcare provider will:

  • Look for swollen lymph nodes.
  • Look for enlarged lymph nodes or tumors in the neck, back, or chest.
  • Check your child’s blood count to look for anemia (low red blood cells) or other problems.
  • Look for lumps or swelling in the abdomen, chest, or testicles.
  • Check your child’s skin and nails.

If your child’s health provider thinks that your child may have lymphoma, you may have other tests. These include:

  • Blood tests to check for anemia, infection, and other problems.
  • Biopsies. These are small samples of tissue taken from under the skin or other areas of the body. The tissue is looked at under a microscope to look for lymphoma cells.
  • CT scan or PET scan. These imaging tests use X-rays and a special dye to make detailed pictures of the inside of the body.
  • Bone marrow aspiration and biopsy. These tests use a needle to remove a small amount of bone marrow (the soft tissue inside bones) to check for disease.
  • A biopsy of the lymph nodes. This test involves removing a small piece of tissue from the lymph node. The tissue is looked at under a microscope.
  • Lymph node ultrasound. This test uses sound waves to make pictures of the inside of the lymph nodes.
  • Lumbar puncture (spinal tap). This test uses a needle to remove a small sample of cerebrospinal fluid (the clear fluid that bathes the brain and spinal cord) to check for infections or other problems.
  • PET scan or CT scan of the chest. These imaging tests use a special dye to make detailed pictures of the inside of the chest.
  • MRI of the brain. This test uses a special magnet and radio waves to make detailed pictures of the inside of the brain.
  • MRI of the chest. This test uses a magnet and radio waves to make pictures of the chest.
  • MRI of the abdomen. This test uses a magnet and radio waves to make pictures of the abdomen.
  • Needle biopsy. This test is used when the lymph nodes are too small to remove a sample during surgery. For this test, the healthcare provider will use a needle to remove a piece of tissue from the lymph node.
  • Needle aspiration. This test is used to find out if there are cancer cells in the fluid from a lymph node. The healthcare provider puts a needle into the node and takes out a small amount of fluid. This fluid is then looked at under a light microscope to see if cancer cells are present.
  • Needle biopsy of the blood. This test is used to find out if there are cancer cells in the blood. The healthcare provider will take a small amount of blood from a vein and send it to a lab to be looked at under a light microscope.
  • PET scan of the chest. This test uses a radioactive substance that can be seen inside the body. It is usually done after a biopsy has shown that there are cancer cells in the lymph nodes.

What’s the takeaway?

If your child’s symptoms get worse or don’t get better after a few days or a few weeks, they should see their healthcare provider.

It’s important to tell your child’s healthcare provider about any other symptoms you or your child has. This will help them find the cause of your child’s symptoms and the best treatment for the lymphoma.

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