The findings suggested that those patients with unexplained swollen neck glands should be referred for specialist investigations.
“Our research has revealed the importance of persistent swollen lymph glands, particularly in the neck, as part of cancer,” said professor Willie Hamilton from University of Exeter Medical School in Britain.
“Of course swollen glands are common with throat infections, but in cancer, they are usually larger and painless. It has been known for a long time that this could represent cancer – this study shows that the risk is higher than previously thought,” Hamilton noted.
Each year, more than 14,500 people in Britain are diagnosed with a form of lymphoma, and nearly 5,000 die from the disease, according to the researchers.
The researchers from University of Exeter Medical School worked with colleagues in Universities of Oxford, Cambridge and Bangor in two associated studies.
Both papers focussed on patients over the age of 40. The first was a large-scale assessment of symptoms which were markers of non-Hodgkin Lymphoma. The team used data from 4,799 cases, with more than 19,000 controls.
The second study assessed 283 patients over the age of 40 with Hodgkin Lymphoma, comparing them with 1,237 control cases.
The findings were remarkably similar in both studies – demonstrating the importance of swollen lymph glands – particularly in the neck.
No blood tests were really helpful in confirming or refuting the diagnosis.
The study was published in the British Journal of General Practice.