How Is Lymphoma Diagnosed?

Lymphoma is diagnosed through:

Physical Exam

If a person has symptoms of lymphoma or notices a lump or swelling, the doctor will perform a complete physical exam. This includes checking the lymph nodes in the neck, armpit, or groin, and checking for an enlarged liver or spleen. The doctor will ask about recent illnesses or infections, and overall health.

Blood Tests

Blood tests may rule out infections and other types of disease. The blood will also be checked to see if cancer cells or cancer-related enzymes are present. Other factors in the blood, such as anemia may be looked at. These tests may also provide information on how far the cancer has spread.

Imaging Tests

The doctor will probably order imaging tests that can view inside the body, such as:

  • X-rays.
  • CT (computed tomography) scan.
  • MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) scan.
  • Lymphangiogram, a test using a special dye that makes the lymph nodes and vessels show up on an x-ray.


A biopsy tells whether a lump or swollen gland is truly a lymphoma. To do a biopsy, the doctor will surgically remove a small sample of tissue, and apathologist looks at it under a microscope. Cancer cells look a certain way under the microscope, which allows the pathologist to identify them.

Need To Know:

Ruling Out Other Conditions

Infections like the flu, mononucleosis (mono), or strep throat can also cause swollen lymph nodes, so these symptoms should not automatically cause concern of cancer. If the swelling does not go down after a couple of weeks, you should see a doctor.

Swollen lymph nodes due to infection are usually fairly soft and somewhat tender or painful, while cancerous nodes are usually firm, rubbery and painless.

Certain chemicals or medications, such as antibiotics and drugs for epilepsy, can cause swollen lymph nodes and other symptoms that may resemble symptoms for lymphoma. To avoid this confusion, tell your doctor what medications you have been taking recently.

There are other serious conditions that can cause swollen lymph nodes. These include AIDS, other types of cancer, and disorders of the lymph system that are not cancer. The tests described above will help to rule out these conditions.

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