Clinical presentation and characteristics of lymphoma in the head and neck region

Head Face Med. 2019 Jan 3;15(1):1. doi: 10.1186/s13005-018-0186-0.


Background: The study analyses clinical characteristics of histologically defined head and neck (H&N) lymphoma to raise the awareness of ENT specialists to the leading symptoms.

Method: From 2003 to 2011, all patients with histologically defined H&N lymphoma from our clinic were evaluated.

Results: This study identified 221 patients with H&N lymphoma comprising 193 non-Hodgkin lymphomas (NHL) and 28 Hodgkin lymphomas (HL). Among NHL there were 77 indolent (iNHL), 110 aggressive (aNHL), six highly aggressive NHL and further 28 HL. Patients with highly aggressive NHL and HL were significantly younger (p < 0.0001). Corresponding to the leading symptoms, we found nodal and extranodal involvement. NHL demonstrated manifestation in neck lymph nodes, tonsils, major salivary glands, sinonasal-system and hypopharynx/larynx. HL showed exclusive manifestation in lymph nodes of the neck and the tonsils (p < 0.0001). The mean time from first symptoms to diagnosis ranged from 1.5 ± 0.7 months in highly aggressive lymphoma to 7.5 ± 11.5 months in iNHL.

Conclusions: The variable clinical presentation of lymphoma is a challenge for the ENT specialist. Fast diagnosis is crucial for rapid treatment, especially in highly aggressive NHL like the Burkitt-lymphoma and HL. A standardized medical history, clinical examination and imaging evaluations paired with patient's signs, symptoms and demographic knowledge might indicate lymphoma. Biopsies in the H&N region should always be immediately performed in suspicious findings.

Keywords: Head and neck; Lymphoma; Neck mass; Symptom; Tonsillitis.

MeSH terms

  • Female
  • Head and Neck Neoplasms* / diagnosis
  • Hodgkin Disease* / diagnosis
  • Humans
  • Lymphoma, Non-Hodgkin* / diagnosis
  • Male