In a chaotic and uncertain world, cancer is still one of the scariest diagnoses a person can receive. And while treatments are improving every day, the prognosis for recovery from different types varies widely.
This article is meant to educate you on the symptoms of Hodgkin’s lymphoma, which is a cancer of the lymphatic system. The good news is that when it’s caught early, Hodgkin’s lymphoma is very treatable.
However, it can be challenging to identify these initial symptoms of Hodgkin’s lymphoma because they are mostly non-specific. Taken together, they may spell trouble and warrant a trip to the doctor as soon as possible. Start making notes now of any combination of the following experiences.
1. Increased sensitivity to alcohol
This is one of the more surprising symptoms of Hodgkin’s lymphoma and might be your first clue that something is wrong. If you notice that you are more sensitive to alcohol than usual, or that you have pain in your lymph nodes after imbibing, it could indicate a problem in your lymphatic system.
The lymph system helps to control the flow of fluids throughout your body and is part of the immune system, which is tasked with fighting infections. Science doesn’t fully understand the connection between alcohol sensitivity and lymphoma, so it isn’t used as the main diagnostic criteria for the cancer.
Also, there are plenty of reasons that alcohol might make you feel bad, so don’t assume the worst…but do head to your doc for a checkup.
2. Swelling of the lymph nodes
Because lymphoma starts in the lymphatic system, lymph nodes throughout your body will be affected. In early stages, it usually manifests as painless swelling in your neck, armpits, or groin.
This happens when a type of white blood cell called a lymphocyte experiences a genetic mutation that causes it to multiply rapidly. It also allows these diseased cells to live longer than normal lymphocytes. Before long, too many diseased cells have crowded your lymph nodes and caused swelling.
You may notice this swelling before you experience any pain. But because many of the other symptoms of Hodgkin’s lymphoma are pretty non-specific, swollen lymph nodes are considered the hallmark symptom of the disease.
3. Intense itching
It’s strange to think of cancer as the cause of itchiness, but sometimes it is. The current science speculates that chemicals utilized by your immune system, called cytokines, are released in an effort to fight the cancer.
The side effect of cytokines in the bloodstream is irritated nerve endings that cause persistent itching. This type of itching often happens in the hands, lower legs, or feet, but may affect the entire body.
If you can think back to several recent instances of overwhelming, unscratchable itching, pay attention to whether you might also have other symptoms of lymphoma. In rare cases, the itching will be accompanied by a rash.
4. Fevers and night sweats
These are two symptoms that often occur together and can be a sign of advancing lymphoma, but they can be caused by many other things as well. Fever is the body’s natural response an infection of any kind, and when it happens while you are snug under the covers, you may experience night sweats that drench your bedding.
An occasional bout of fever-induced sweating, or even a sweat that is hormonal in origin, is nothing to worry about. Do head to your doctor if you have a fever that comes and goes over the course of at least two weeks and can’t be explained by another source.
5. Respiratory distress
The respiratory symptoms of Hodgkin’s lymphoma may lead you to suspect a cold, flu, or even coronavirus before you think about cancer. However, swollen lymph nodes in the chest area have a cascading effect due to pressure on airways, lungs, and blood vessels.
This can cause fluid to collect around the lungs and manifest in symptoms including persistent cough, shortness of breath, and chest discomfort. You may also find that your breathing becomes noisy and you experience a sense of pressure or pain behind the breastbone.
6. Decreased appetite and weight loss
There are lymph nodes all over your body, including in the abdominal area. Therefore, swelling caused by lymphoma can also make you feel full when you haven’t eaten. That bloated sensation naturally decreases appetite and may lead to weight loss if the problem persists.
Additionally, because cancer cells trigger an intense immune response, their presence alone causes your body to burn a lot more energy than normal. If you notice that you’ve shed more than 10% of your body weight over six months or less, it’s a warning sign of something serious. It might not be cancer; this symptom is common with undiagnosed diabetes as well.
And finally, the most non-specific symptom of all – fatigue – is also likely to be present when your body has started to make Hodgkin’s lymphoma cancer cells. If you’re feeling like exhaustion is the unwelcome topper to a host of perplexing symptoms, put in that call to your doctor. A quick visit will relieve your mind or prepare you for the battle ahead. Either way, don’t wait!