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Diagnosis

If you see your GP because you're concerned about symptoms of Hodgkin lymphoma, they'll ask about your health and carry out a simple physical examination.

If necessary, your GP will refer you to hospital for further tests.

In 2015, the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) published guidelines to help GPs recognise the signs and symptoms of Hodgkin lymphoma and refer people for the right tests faster.

To find out if you should be referred for further tests for suspected Hodgkin lymphoma, read the NICE 2015 guidelines on Suspected cancer: recognition and referral.

If you're referred to hospital, a biopsy will usually be carried out, as this is the only way to confirm a diagnosis of Hodgkin lymphoma.

Biopsy

biopsy involves removing some or all of an affected lymph node, which is then studied in a laboratory.

Biopsies are small operations that can often be carried out under a local anaesthetic (where the area is numbed). In some cases, the affected lymph node isn't easily accessible and a general anaesthetic (where you're asleep) may be required.

A pathologist (an expert in the study of diseased tissue) will then check the tissue sample for the presence of cancerous cells. If they find cancerous cells, they can also identify exactly which type of Hodgkin lymphoma you have, which is an important factor in planning your treatment.

Further testing

If a biopsy confirms a diagnosis of Hodgkin lymphoma, further testing will be needed to check how far the lymphoma has spread. This allows a doctor to diagnose the stage of your lymphoma.

Further tests may include:

Stages of Hodgkin lymphoma

When testing is complete, it should be possible to determine the stage of your lymphoma. "Staging" means scoring the cancer by how far it's spread.

The main stages of Hodgkin lymphoma are:

Health professionals also add the letters "A" or "B" to your stage, to indicate whether or not you have certain symptoms.

"A" is put after your stage if you have no additional symptoms other than swollen lymph nodes. "B" is put after your stage if you have additional symptoms of weight loss, fever or night sweats.

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