Further tests after diagnosis

If you are diagnosed with NHL, your specialist will arrange further tests for you. These will check your general health and show the stage of the lymphoma – whether it has spread to other parts of your body. Knowing this helps your doctors plan your treatment.

You will have blood tests and usually a CT scan to check for enlarged lymph nodes and signs of lymphoma elsewhere in the body.

Other tests that are sometimes used include:

  • MRI scan – to check for lymphoma cells in the bones, brain or head and neck area.
  • PET/CT scan – to measure the activity of cells in different parts of the body. This may be done for certain types of NHL.
  • Bone marrow sample (biopsy) – to check for lymphoma cells in the bone marrow.
  • Lumbar puncture – to check for lymphoma cells in the fluid that surrounds the brain and spinal cord.

Waiting for test results can be a difficult time. It may help to talk to your family, friends or specialist nurse.

Further tests for non-Hodgkin lymphoma

If the biopsy shows you have NHL, your doctor will want you to have further tests to see if the lymphoma has spread to other parts of your body.

These tests help doctors find out the stage of lymphoma. Once your doctors know the stage, they can plan the most effective treatment for you.

You may also have tests to check your general health and to make sure you are fit for any planned treatment. Tests may include the following:


Blood tests

You may have blood samples taken to check your general health and how well your liver and kidneys are working. Sometimes, doctors will use specific blood tests to diagnose and monitor your cancer. We have more detailed information about having a blood test.


CT scan

A CT (computerised tomography) scan uses x-rays to build a three-dimensional picture of the inside of the body. You may be given either a drink or injection of dye. This is to make certain areas of the body show up more clearly. This scan takes around 30 minutes and is painless. We have more detailed information about having a CT scan.


MRI scan

This scan uses magnetism to build up a detailed picture of areas of your body. You may be given an injection of dye, into a vein, to improve the images from the scan. This test is painless and will take around 30 minutes. We have more detailed information about having an MRI scan.


PET/CT scan

This is a combination of a CT scan, which takes a series of x-rays to build up a three-dimensional picture, and a positron emission tomography (PET) scan. A PET scan uses low-dose radiation to measure the activity of cells in different parts of the body.

PET/CT scans give more detailed information about the part of the body being scanned. You may have to travel to a specialist centre to have one. You can't eat for six hours before the scan, although you may be able to drink.

A mildly radioactive substance is injected into a vein, usually in your arm. The radiation dose used is very small. The scan is done after at least an hour’s wait. It usually takes 30–90 minutes. You should be able to go home after the scan.

We have more information about the PET/CT scan.


Bone marrow test

The bone marrow is the spongy part in the middle of our bones where all our blood cells are made. A small sample of bone marrow is taken from the back of the hip bone (pelvis) or occasionally the breast bone (sternum). This is sent to a laboratory where it is looked at under a microscope to see if there are any abnormal cells. We have more detailed information about having a bone marrow test.


Lumbar puncture

The spinal cord and the brain are surrounded by a fluid called cerebrospinal fluid (CSF). In some types of lymphoma, the lymphoma cells may get into this fluid. Some people may have a lumbar puncture test to check for lymphoma in the CSF.

The test is done on the ward or in the day unit. The doctor numbs the area of skin over the lower spine with a local anaesthetic. They then feel for a space between two bones (vertebrae) in your lower spine and put a thin needle into the space to collect a sample of CSF. After this, they take the needle out and put a small dressing over the skin. The sample of CSF will be sent to the laboratory so it can be tested for lymphoma cells.

A lumbar puncture being done (lying down)
A lumbar puncture being done (lying down)

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Most people have no problems with this test, although when the needle is put in, it may cause tingling down the back of your legs. This is harmless, but can be worrying if you’re not expecting it. Some people have a headache for a few days afterwards and may need to take painkillers.

It will probably take several days for the results of your tests to be ready and a follow-up appointment will be arranged for you before you go home.


Waiting for test results

Waiting for test results can be a difficult time. It may take from a few days to a couple of weeks for the results of your tests to be ready. You may find it helpful to talk with your partner, family or a close friend. Your specialist nurse or one of the organisations listed on our database, can also provide support. You can also talk things over with one of our cancer support specialists on 0808 808 00 00.


Back to Tests and scans

Being diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma

If your GP suspects you have non-Hodgkin lymphoma, you may be referred to hospital. You’ll receive a diagnosis after a biopsy.