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Non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma Diagnosis

Accurate and precise diagnosis of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma helps doctors choose the best course of action specifically for you. It plays a big part in your chances for successful treatment.

At MD Anderson, our group of experts is among the most experienced and skilled in the nation in diagnosing non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. In fact, we are one of the few cancer centers that include hemopathologists, specialized doctors who focus on lymphoma and myeloma, on your care team. With a high level of expertise, they use the most modern equipment to find out the precise extent of disease. This can make a huge difference in accurate diagnosis and successful treatment.

Non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma Diagnostic Tests

If you have symptoms that may signal non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, your doctor will examine you and ask you questions about your health and your medical history. One or more of the following tests may be used to find out if you have cancer and if it has spread. These tests also may be used to find out if treatment is working.

  • Lymph node biopsy: A small piece of tissue is removed from a lymph node and looked at under a microscope. Sometimes the entire node is removed.
  • Imaging tests, which may include:
    • X-rays
    • CT or CAT (computed axial tomography) scans
    • PET (positron emission tomography) scans
    • MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) scans
  • Blood tests: To determine if blood cells are normal in number and appearance and if blood chemistry is normal. If you have been diagnosed with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, certain blood tests may help doctors determine your outlook.
  • Bone marrow aspiration and biopsy
  • Liver and kidney function tests
  • Echocardiogram: To evaluate the size and function of the heart.
  • Immunophenotyping: Cells from a lymph node, blood or bone marrow are examined with a microscope to determine what type of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma cells are present.
  • Pulmonary function test: Finds out how well the lungs function.

Non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma Staging

If you are diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, your doctor will determine the stage (or extent) of the disease. Staging is a way of classifying how much disease is in the body and where it has spread when it is diagnosed. This information helps your doctor decide on the best type of treatment. Once the staging classification is determined, it stays the same even if treatment is successful or the cancer spreads.

Patient Tip

Bring a loved one along to appointments to hold your hand, ask questions and take notes.

Non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma Stages

(source: National Cancer Institute)

Stage I (early stage): One lymph node region is involved. If the cancer is in one organ outside the lymph node such as the skin, lung, brain, etc., this is called extension, or E non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

Stage II (locally advanced disease): The cancer is in two or more lymph regions on one side of the diaphragm. If the cancer is in one lymph node region plus a nearby area or organ, it is considered E disease.

Stage III (advanced disease): Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma involves lymph nodes above and below the diaphragm or one node area and one organ on opposite sides of the diaphragm.

Stage IV (widespread disease): The lymphoma is outside the lymph nodes and spleen and has spread to one or more organs such as bone, bone marrow, skin and other organs.

In addition, each stage is classified as A or B. A means the patient does not have symptoms including fever, drenching sweats or unexplained weight loss. When patients have any of these symptoms, the non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma is classified as B.

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Knowledge Center

Find the latest news and information about non-Hodgkin's lymphoma in our Knowledge Center, including blog posts, articles, videos, news releases and more.