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Education Resources

Hodgkin Lymphoma Diagnosis

If you have swollen lymph nodes or another symptom that suggests Hodgkin lymphoma, your doctor will try to find out what’s causing the problem. Your doctor may ask about your personal and family medical history.

You may have some of the following exams and tests:

  • Physical exam: Your doctor checks for swollen lymph nodes in your neck, underarms, and groin. Your doctor also checks for a swollen spleen or liver.
  • Blood tests: The lab does a complete blood count to check the number of white blood cells and other cells and substances.
  • Chest x-rays: X-ray pictures may show swollen lymph nodes or other signs of disease in your chest.
  • Biopsy: A biopsy is the only sure way to diagnose Hodgkin lymphoma. Your doctor may remove an entire lymph node (excisional biopsy) or only part of a lymph node (incisional biopsy). A thin needle (fine needle aspiration) usually cannot remove a large enough sample for the pathologist to diagnose Hodgkin lymphoma. Removing an entire lymph node is best.

The pathologist uses a microscope to check the tissue for Hodgkin lymphoma cells. A person with Hodgkin lymphoma usually has large, abnormal cells known as Reed-Sternberg cells. They are not found in people with non-Hodgkin lymphoma. See the photo of a Reed-Sternberg cell.