How to spot lymphoma symptoms in women

lymphoma“is a generic term used to describe diseases of the lymphatic system. The lymphatic system is part of the body’s immune system and helps fight infection. Lymphomas are divided into two categories: Hodgkin lymphoma (HL) and non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL).

Lymphoma symptoms in women can mimic other gynecological health conditions and hormonal changes. Although women are slightly less likely than men to develop lymphoma, their symptoms may go unnoticed. This can delay diagnosis and treatment.

This article will describe the symptoms of lymphoma and discuss how lymphoma symptoms in women differ from those in men.

General symptoms of lymphoma

swollen lymph nodes, called lymphadenopathy, is a common lymphoma symptom that brings people to a healthcare provider. Other side effects of lymphoma include:

  • fever
  • fatigue
  • night sweats
  • lose weight

Some of these symptoms are called B symptoms. Oncologists (cancer doctors) use B symptoms to determine the stage and prognosis of certain lymphomas. B Symptoms are relieved by lymphoma treatment. B symptoms include:

  • Fever without infection that lasts for several weeks
  • sweaty
  • Unintentionally lose at least 10% of your body weight in 6 months

swollen lymph nodes

Noticing a new mass in the neck, collarbone, armpit, or groin area is common in people with lymphoma. These lumps are usually swollen lymph nodes. The overproduction of cancer cells and lymphocytes, a type of white blood cell (WBC), collects in the lymph nodes, forming a firm, painless mass.

Some swollen lymph nodes may be deep in the body and cannot be felt with the fingers. However, if they are large enough, they can push on organs like the stomach or lungs. This can make eating or breathing difficult.

You should report any new lumps or bumps to your healthcare provider.

fever

A fever is usually a sign of infection. However, in lymphoma patients, fever is considered a B symptom. The exact cause of fever in patients with lymphoma is unknown. One study described B symptoms such as fever as an inflammatory response to cancer cells. Lymphoma fever unrelated to infection is known to come and go, be low-grade, and cause night sweats.

Keep in mind that although there are too many white blood cells in lymphoma, the cells don’t work properly and can lead to a weakened immune system. Therefore, people with cancer should always be treated for infections to prevent sepsis (a serious blood infection).

fatigue

Fatigue is a common side effect of lymphoma. It can be subtle or extreme. Fatigue occurs because cancer cells and lymphocytes divide rapidly, leaving little room in the blood and organs for healthy cells to multiply. Some abnormalities that contribute to lymphoma fatigue include:

  • Anemia (low red blood cells)
  • Thrombocytopenia (low platelets)
  • Neutropenia (lack of healthy white blood cells)
  • Hypercalcemia (too much calcium in the blood)
  • septicemia
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Tell your healthcare provider if you have increased fatigue, especially swollen lymph nodes, fever, and existing fatigue.

pajamas

Night sweats are a B symptom that can indicate the severity of some lymphomas. These night sweats are drenched and may be accompanied by fever and chills. Because of the intensity of lymphoma night sweats, most people must change bedding and clothing. Profuse sweating may also occur during the day.

Night sweats don’t mean you have lymphoma. Always evaluate for new and unusual symptoms.

lose weight

While weight loss is generally welcome, unexpected weight loss combined with other B symptoms can be a sign of lymphoma. Losing at least 10% of body weight within six months is consistent with type B lymphoma symptoms. Here are some reasons why lymphoma can lead to weight loss:

  • loss of appetite, or feeling full
  • pain or discomfort from swollen internal lymph nodes
  • Swollen lymph nodes press on the esophagus or stomach, making it difficult to swallow or eat
  • fatigue and lack of energy to cook and eat

Symptoms specific to women

The most common lymphoma symptoms are shared by women and men. However, some of the side effects women experience are subtle and can be forgiven as routine changes in a woman’s life. Pelvic pressure, abnormal bleeding and painful sex can be mistaken for hormonal fluctuations, or may be signs of other gynecological cancers such as cervical or ovarian cancer.

pelvic pressure

Lymphoma affects many organs, including the female reproductive tract. Women with female genital tract lymphoma may initially be asymptomatic, but as the cancer progresses, pelvic pressure is a common complaint. Because genital tract lymphoma is rare, most women with pelvic pressure are usually treated by a gynecologist, who may attribute the symptom to something other than lymphoma.

uterine bleeding

Gynecologic lymphoma can cause vaginal bleeding and menstrual irregularities. In the absence of B symptoms, women with gynecologic lymphoma were initially thought to have other gynecologic cancers, making diagnosis difficult and time-consuming, a study found.

Regular visits to your gynecologist can help determine what is normal in your body and what may be worrisome.

Pain during intercourse

One or more pelvic masses, especially if they grow in size, can cause pain during intercourse. Women may also experience bloating (pressure) and bloating from gynecologic lymphoma. These changes can occur over time in slower-growing lymphomas, but can occur overnight in aggressive types such as diffuse large B-cell lymphoma.

Why is Lymphoma Difficult to Diagnose in Women?

Naturally occurring hormonal changes, such as puberty, pregnancy, and menopause, can make identifying lymphoma symptoms in women difficult. Swollen lymph nodes may go unnoticed or go unreported. Fatigue is a daily occurrence for many women and is generally considered normal.

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Lymphoma night sweats can be misinterpreted as hot flashes. Weight loss can be intentional and desired. Pelvic pain, bleeding, and painful sex can be attributed to the normal fluctuations in hormone levels with age.

Also, because many women lack routine follow-up care, it can be difficult to identify normal and abnormal changes in the body.

When to see a healthcare provider

It is critical that women participate in annual preventive health checks. This practice builds a relationship of trust between women and their healthcare providers. It is also valuable to have blood work, imaging, and a documented physical exam to compare at each visit. Establishing routine care helps your healthcare provider identify and diagnose new symptoms more quickly.

Report any swollen lymph nodes, B symptoms, or new pain to your healthcare provider right away.

diagnosis

Because there are many subtypes of lymphoma, an accurate diagnosis is critical to receiving appropriate treatment. Women and men will receive the same diagnostic tests. Some of the steps in diagnosing lymphoma include:

  • Lymph node biopsy: Once an enlarged lymph node is found, a radiologist or surgeon will perform a needle biopsy (removal of a single lymph node) or excisional biopsy (removal of an entire lymph node). Lymph node tissue will be sent to a pathologist for examination and diagnosis.
  • Pathology tests: Lymph node tissue will undergo a number of tests to determine which type of lymphoma you have, which genetic mutations may lead to cancer growth, and which treatments are best for that type of lymphoma. This assessment may take 7 to 14 days.
  • Bone marrow biopsy: This test helps determine where the cancer has spread and is important for staging. These bone marrow samples were also sent to a pathologist for evaluation.
  • Imaging: While a lymph node biopsy can determine which type of lymphoma you have, special imaging tests can help verify where the lymphoma is in your body and how big the tumor is. Standard imaging for lymphoma may include chest X-rays, computed tomography (CT) scans, positron emission tomography-computed tomography (PET-CT) scans, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), and ultrasound.
  • Lumbar puncture (LP) or spinal tap: Some lymphomas can spread to your spinal fluid and affect your brain, which is important when deciding on a treatment plan.
  • Blood tests: Certain blood tests can help determine how advanced or severe the lymphoma is.

Waiting for test results can be frustrating and scary, but it’s important to understand your lymphoma before starting treatment.

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treat

Treatment of lymphoma in women and men is based on several factors, including:

  • type of lymphoma
  • Cancer Genetics
  • stage of lymphoma
  • medical history
  • general health
  • Quality of life considerations

Although the drugs used to treat lymphoma vary based on the factors listed above, the usual treatment plan may include a combination of chemotherapy, immunotherapy (to help your own immune system fight cancer), steroids, radiation, and surgery.

Women with gynecologic lymphoma may need a hysterectomy (removal of the uterus), bilateral salpingo-oophorectomy (removal of ovaries and fallopian tubes), and removal of tumors from the pelvic area. Surgeons specializing in gynecology and oncology perform this procedure.

Some lymphoma patients may be matched with clinical trials for new and cutting-edge drugs. After treatment, if the lymphoma comes back, some people may need a bone marrow transplant or CAR-T therapy (the patient’s T cells, a type of immune system cell, are exchanged with manufactured T cells to fight cancer cells).

Not everyone with lymphoma needs treatment. For example, a slow-growing lymphoma that causes mild symptoms may only require monitoring with blood tests, imaging, and physical exams.

generalize

Lymphoma is a generic term to describe diseases of the lymphatic system. Although men are slightly more likely to develop lymphoma, women may have subtle symptoms that make diagnosis more difficult. Gynecologic lymphomas can mimic the hormonal changes seen in adolescence, pregnancy, and menopause.

Although lymphoma treatment is similar in both genders, women may need gynecologic surgery in addition to systemic cancer treatment. Establishing routine follow-up and participating in preventive health screenings can help healthcare providers identify early lymphoma symptoms in women.

VigorTip words

Knowing intuitively that something is wrong with your body but not reporting it because of shame, guilt, or worry is a common barrier to diagnosing curable conditions like lymphoma. Finding a healthcare provider you can trust is critical to your health and well-being. Seeking testimonials from friends and family, checking online reviews, and talking with your insurance company representative are your ways to find a trusted healthcare provider.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Where does lymphoma usually start?

    Lymphoma starts in the lymphatic system, where cells of the immune system (called white blood cells) fight infection.

  • What are the early symptoms of lymphoma in women?

    In addition to common lymphoma symptoms such as fever, night sweats, and weight loss, women experience pelvic fullness, vaginal bleeding, and painful intercourse.

  • Can lymphoma be cured?

    Many types of lymphoma are curable. For example, the five-year survival rate for all patients with Hodgkin lymphoma is 87%. Although diffuse large B-cell lymphoma is an aggressive form of non-Hodgkin lymphoma, it can be cured in some cases.