Lymphoma factsheet


Lymphomas are cancers that grow in the lymphatic system.

The lymphatic system is part of the immune system. It helps your child’s body to fight infection and illness by:

  • managing fluids
  • carrying white blood cells through the body
  • filtering out germs.

Lymph nodes are tiny filters that clear out germs. They are found all over the body but are more noticeable in the: 

  • armpits
  • neck
  • groin area. 

Lymph nodes swell when they clear germs. It is normal to feel them when you are sick or have a sore throat.

When abnormal white blood cells grow and collect in the lymph nodes, they eventually become a tumour. 

Cancer cells in lymphoma can spread quickly and easily through the lymphatic system to other body parts. 

The two main types of lymphoma are:  

  • Hodgkin’s disease (HD) – lymphomas that usually stay in the lymph nodes, showing up between 5 – 10 years old and more common in boys 
  • non-Hodgkins lymphoma (NHL) – lymphomas that can spread to other body parts, showing up between 10 – 20 years old.

Lymphomas are rare in children but are the third most common type of childhood cancer in Australia.

 Signs and symptoms

Symptoms of lymphoma can include: 

  • swollen or large lymph nodes in the neck, armpit, or groin
  • swelling in the face 
  • abdominal or belly pain and swelling 
  • itchy skin 
  • feeling weaker than usual
  • feeling more tired than usual
  • sweating more than usual, especially at night 
  • fever 
  • unusual or sudden weight loss 
  • shortness of breath
  • difficulty swallowing. 

See your local doctor as soon as possible if you are concerned your child is showing signs of lymphoma.


Your child’s local doctor will try to rule out any other illnesses first. They will:

  • take a blood test
  • take a medical and family history
  • do a physical check to look for:
    • infection
    • breathing problems
  • swelling in the lymph nodes, belly, hands, or feet.

Your child will be referred to a cancer specialist, called an oncologist.

The oncologist will be able to check symptoms and diagnose lymphoma using:

  • blood tests
  • x-rays and ultrasounds to see whether the lymphoma has spread 
  • biopsy - a procedure where a sample of the affected lymph node or body part is taken out and tested.

Some children may have a lymph node that gets bigger for no reason. Your child’s doctor will watch the lymph node closely and check for cancer cells if they start to change or grow.


Chemotherapy is a cancer treatment that uses a mixture of medications to kill cancer cells. It is commonly used to treat lymphoma because it can reach all parts of the body where the lymphoma may have spread. 

Other treatments can include: 

  • radiotherapy: where high-energy X-rays are used to destroy the cancer cells
  • stem cell transplant: where new, healthy cells are introduced to the bone marrow, which makes white blood cells
  • targeted therapy: where specific drugs are used to find and attack cancer cells without hurting normal cells 
  • immunotherapy: where medicine is given to encourage your child’s immune system to get rid of cancer cells. 


Risk factors for lymphoma

Some risk factors can increase the chance of a child developing lymphoma. These include:

  • have pre-existing problems with their immune system
  • taking medicine that suppresses their immune system, like after an organ transplant
  • having radiotherapy or chemotherapy for other types of cancer 
  • previously having Epstein-Barr virus, also known as mononucleosis or glandular fever
  • having a sibling who has had lymphoma.

Cure rate

Lymphoma has a high cure rate in children:

  • more than 90% for early-stage
  • more than 85% for late stage.

Support for families

A cancer diagnosis can leave families and children feeling overwhelmed, scared, anxious, and upset. Practical and emotional support during and after treatment is essential and can come from: 

  • family
  • friends
  • healthcare professionals
  • specialised support services.

Speak to your child’s treatment team for information about support services.

Last updated Monday 25th March 2024


This factsheet is provided for general information only. It does not constitute health advice and should not be used to diagnose or treat any health condition.

Please consult with your doctor or other health professional to make sure this information is right for you and/or your child.

The Sydney Children’s Hospitals Network does not accept responsibility for inaccuracies or omissions, the interpretation of the information, or for success or appropriateness of any treatment described in the factsheet.

© Sydney Children’s Hospitals Network 2024