Further tests after diagnosis for Hodgkin lymphoma

If you have Hodgkin lymphoma, you will have more tests before you start any treatment.

Some tests help to show how many areas of the body are affected by lymphoma and where these areas are. Other tests, such as blood tests or x-rays, check your general health and how well your heart, lungs, liver and kidneys are working.

Information from these tests help your doctors plan your treatment safely and effectively.

You may have a:

  • CT scan – a series of x-rays give a three-dimensional picture of the inside of your body.
  • PET/CT scan – a PET scan uses low-dose radiation to measure the activity of cells. PET/CT scans combine this with a CT scan to give more detailed information about the part of the body being scanned.
  • MRI scan – a magnetic scanner builds up a detailed picture of your body.
  • Bone marrow sample – a doctor or nurse takes a small sample of bone marrow from the back of the hip bone (pelvis). The sample is sent to a laboratory to be checked for abnormal cells.

Further tests

You will have more tests before you start treatment for lymphoma. Some tests help to show the stage of the lymphoma. You may have other tests, such as blood tests or x-rays, to check your general health and how well your heart, lungs, liver and kidneys are working.

Information from these tests help your doctors plan your treatment safely and effectively.

You may have some of the following tests.


CT (computerised tomography) scan

A CT scan takes a series of x-rays, which build up a three-dimensional picture of the inside of the body. The scan takes 10 to 30 minutes and is painless. It uses a small amount of radiation, which is very unlikely to harm you and will not harm anyone you come into contact with.

CT scan
CT scan

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You may be given a drink or injection of a dye, which allows particular areas to be seen more clearly. This may make you feel hot all over for a few minutes. It is important to let your doctor know if you are allergic to iodine or have asthma, because you could have a more serious reaction to the injection.

You will probably be able to go home as soon as the scan is over.

Someone having a CT scan

Having a CT scan

A radiographer explains how a CT scan works, and Jyoti talks about her experience.

About our cancer information videos

Having a CT scan

A radiographer explains how a CT scan works, and Jyoti talks about her experience.

About our cancer information videos


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 cannot 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. You will wait for at least an hour before you have the scan. It usually takes 30 to 90 minutes. You should be able to go home after the scan.


MRI scan

An MRI scan uses magnetism to build up a detailed picture of areas of your body. The scanner is a powerful magnet so you may be asked to complete and sign a checklist to make sure it is safe for you. The checklist asks about any metal implants you may have, such as a pacemaker, surgical clips or bone pins, etc.

You should also tell your doctor if you have ever worked with metal or in the metal industry as very tiny fragments of metal can sometimes lodge in the body. If you do have any metal in your body, it is likely that you will not be able to have an MRI scan. In this situation, another type of scan can be used. Before the scan, you will be asked to remove any metal belongings including jewellery.

Some people are given an injection of dye into a vein in the arm, which does not usually cause discomfort. This is called a contrast medium and can help the images from the scan to show up more clearly. During the test, you will lie very still on a couch inside a long cylinder (tube) for about 30 minutes. It is painless but can be slightly uncomfortable, and some people feel a bit claustrophobic. It is also noisy, but you will be given earplugs or headphones. You can hear, and speak to, the person operating the scanner.


Bone marrow sample (biopsy)

A doctor or nurse takes a small sample of bone marrow from the back of the hip bone (pelvis). The sample is sent to a laboratory to be checked for abnormal cells.

A bone marrow sample being taken
A bone marrow sample being taken

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You may have this test on a ward or outpatient clinic. It takes about 20 to 30 minutes and you can usually go home shortly afterwards.

Before the bone marrow sample is taken, you have local anaesthetic injections around the area to numb it. You may also be offered a sedative to relax you. Or, you may be given gas and air (Entonox®) to breathe in through a mouth piece or mask. This helps reduce any discomfort during the test.

The doctor or nurse passes a needle through the skin into the bone. They then draw a small sample of liquid from inside the bone marrow into a syringe. This is called a bone marrow aspirate. It can feel uncomfortable for a few seconds when the marrow is drawn into the syringe.

They may also take a small sample of the spongy bone marrow tissue (a trephine biopsy). To do this, the doctor or nurse passes a thicker hollow needle through the skin into the bone marrow. When they take the needle out, it contains a small strip of bone marrow tissue.

You may feel bruised and achy for a few days after this test. Mild painkillers can help. If the pain gets worse, or you notice any bleeding from the area, let your doctor know.

Back to Diagnosing

How lymphoma is diagnosed

Usually you begin by seeing your GP, who will refer you to hospital to see a specialist for a biopsy and tests.