Reducing cancer mortality is a priority for the UK Government and emphasis has been placed on introducing targets to ensure prompt diagnosis. Help seeking is the first step on the pathway to diagnosis and should occur promptly; however, patients with lymphoma take longer to seek help for symptoms than those with many other cancers. Despite this, the help seeking behaviour of these patients has not been investigated. This qualitative study examined the beliefs and actions about help seeking among 32 patients, aged 65 and over and newly diagnosed with lymphoma in West Yorkshire during 2000. Patients reported an extremely wide range of symptoms which were not always interpreted as serious or potentially caused by cancer. This, in association with a clear lack of knowledge about lymphoma, often led to help seeking being deferred. The range and characteristics of symptoms can largely be explained in terms of variations in the type, site and size of the lymphoma. The UK Government targets focus on the time after help seeking, yet for lymphoma it is also crucial to reduce the time taken to seek help. More education about the potential symptoms of this disease is needed among the general public.