If You Notice This After a Fever, Get Checked for Cancer

This symptom is associated with lymphoma and leukemia, experts say.

Most often, a fever is an unpleasant symptom of a viral or bacterial infection, and as such, it clears up when the infection dies off. However, experts warn that in some cases, a fever can indicate a much bigger problem, such as cancer. They say that when your fever displays one particular characteristic, it's important to speak with your doctor about screening for lymphoma and leukemia, in addition to several other types of cancer. The key, experts say, is to not only pay attention to the fever itself, but also to what happens after. Read on to find out which fever feature can signal a serious problem, and how you can distinguish it from a more typical fever resulting from common sickness.

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If you experience recurring fevers of unknown origins, get checked for cancer.

man on couch checking his temperature for fever

If you experience not just one but several fevers back to back, experts say it's wise to request a cancer screening from your doctor. That's because recurring fevers of unknown origin (FUO)—defined as being over 101 degrees, lasting for more than three weeks, and having no identifiable origin after three days of medical investigation—are associated with various cancers.

"Spiking a fever over and over, or going from one infection to the next can indicate an immune system that's been rendered more susceptible by lymphoma or leukemia," explains UCSF Health, noting that you should "never ignore" the symptom. A recurring fever may be present in both Hodgkin's and non-Hodgkin's lymphoma.

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In fact, several other cancers are also associated with recurring fever.

While lymphoma and leukemia are the cancers most frequently associated with recurring fever, there are several other types of cancer that share this symptom.

According to Cancer Research UK, these can include ovarian cancer, kidney cancer (renal cell cancer), liver cancer (hepatocellular carcinoma), soft tissue sarcoma, adrenal gland tumors, and certain brain tumors located in the hypothalamus. "It's not really understood why certain cancers cause fevers and others don't," says the health organization. "It's thought that some cancers may produce things like toxins that cause fever," they add.

You may notice different characteristics in a cancer-related fever.

Woman sweating at night

Experts say that you may be able to distinguish between fevers related to cancer and unrelated fevers by their characteristics. "Fever caused by your cancer might come on in cycles," explains Cancer Research UK. "This means your temperature rises at the same time each day. You may have days or weeks when you don't have a temperature and then the fever starts again. This type of fever can be very frustrating and uncomfortable," their experts add.

The organization adds that some patients with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma may experience night sweats along with overnight fevers, which have no other obvious underlying causes. "This symptom often plays a part in helping doctors decide which type of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma you have," says the organization's site.

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Recurring fever can have a range of other causes, too.


While some people experience recurring fever as a result of cancer—and it's important to rule out this possibility—the Cleveland Clinic notes that there can be other underlying causes as well. However, recurrent fevers do not share the same underlying triggers as classic fevers, which are typically caused by viruses, bacterial infections, or vaccination, according to the health organization.

"Recurring fever is one of the main symptoms of a group of diseases called periodic fever syndrome," explains the Cleveland Clinic. "There are several types of periodic fever syndromes, including Familial Mediterranean fever (FMF), tumor necrosis factor receptor associated periodic syndrome (TRAPS), hyperimmunoglobulin D syndrome (HIDA), neonatal onset multisystem inflammatory disease (NOMID), Muckle-Wells syndrome, familial cold auto inflammatory syndrome," and more, they add. Finally, a condition known as periodic fever with aphthous stomatitis, pharyngitis, and cervical adenitis (PFAPA) is the most common cause of noninfectious recurrent fever syndrome in young children, studies have found.

If you notice recurring fever, speak with your doctor about receiving a cancer screening and exploring the full range of possible causes.

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Lauren Gray
Lauren Gray is a New York-based writer, editor, and consultant. Read more
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