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Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma: Tests After Diagnosis

What tests might I have after being diagnosed?

After a diagnosis of non-Hodgkin lymphoma, you will likely have other tests. These tests help your healthcare providers learn more about your cancer. They can help show if the cancer has grown into nearby areas or spread to other parts of your body. The test results help your healthcare providers decide the best ways to treat the cancer. If you have any questions about these or other tests, be sure to talk with your healthcare team.

The tests you may have can include:

  • Chest X-ray

  • CT scan

  • MRI

  • PET scan

  • Ultrasound

  • Spinal tap, or lumbar puncture

Imaging tests

Chest X-ray

This test uses a small amount of radiation to create images. Swollen lymph nodes in the chest can usually be seen on a chest X-ray. 

CT scan

This may be done of your chest, belly (abdomen), pelvis, head, and neck. This test uses a series of X-rays from many angles. A computer puts the images together into one detailed image. You may need to drink a special X-ray dye (contrast medium) just before the scan. Or it may be injected into your vein through an IV or intravenous line. The dye helps images show up more clearly on the X-rays. The dye may cause a warm feeling in your face or chest. Tell your healthcare provider if you are allergic to or have had a reaction to X-ray dye. A CT scan can show groups of lymph nodes, a swollen spleen, or abnormal growths in your liver.


An MRI uses large magnets and radio waves to take detailed pictures of the inside of the body. An MRI can help show if the cancer has spread to your brain and spinal cord. Or it may be used if the results of an X-ray or CT scan aren’t clear. For this test, you lie still on a table as it slides into a tube-like scanner. If you are not comfortable in small spaces, you may be given a medicine to relax you before the test. This is called a sedative. The scanner directs a beam of radio waves at the area that is being checked. You may need more than 1 set of images. Each one may take 2 to 15 minutes. This test is painless, but it may take an hour or more depending on the number of sets of images needed. 

PET scan

For this test, a radioactive sugar is injected into your bloodstream. Cancer cells use more sugar than normal cells, so the sugar will collect in cancer cells. A special camera is used to see where the radioactive sugar is in your body. A PET scan can sometimes spot lymphoma in different areas of the body, even when they can’t be seen by other tests. It can also show if lymphoma treatment is working. This test is often used along with a CT scan. This is called a PET/CT scan.


This test uses sound waves and a computer to create a picture of tissues in your body. No radiation is used. You will lie on a table. A technician will move a probe (transducer) along your skin over part of your body. The echoes that bounce back are picked up and made into an image on a computer screen. Your doctor may use an ultrasound to find growths in your abdomen. The ultrasound can also show kidneys that are swollen when urine outflow has become blocked by swollen lymph nodes.


Spinal tap, or lumbar puncture

A spinal tap can help find out if the lymphoma has spread to your spinal cord or brain. This test is not often needed in people with lymphoma. But it may be used with certain types of lymphoma. Or it may be used if you have symptoms of cancer in the brain. For this test, a doctor inserts a thin, hollow needle between the bones in your lower spine or back. This is done to take some cerebrospinal fluid. A doctor called a pathologist then looks at the fluid under a microscope for lymphoma cells.

Working with your healthcare provider

Your healthcare provider will talk with you about which tests you’ll have. Make sure to get ready for the tests as instructed. Ask questions and talk about any concerns you have.

Online Medical Reviewer: Alteri, Rick, MD
Online Medical Reviewer: LoCicero, Richard, MD
Date Last Reviewed: 9/1/2017
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