What’s the difference between Hodgkin versus non-Hodgkin lymphoma?

November 14, 2018 | by Samir Undevia, MD

It can be easy to be confused by Hodgkin and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. These type of diseases may sound very similar, but they are also two very different types of cancers.

Both Hodgkin and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma originate in a type of white blood cell in your immune system known as a lymphocyte. Lymphocytes help your immune system remain strong by protecting your body from germs. When your doctor says you have a weakened immune system that means there aren’t enough functioning white blood cells in your bloodstream to help keep you healthy.

Lymphomas are caused by cancerous lymphocytes. There are two main types of lymphomas: Hodgkin and non-Hodgkin. While both types of cancers develop in your immune system, the difference in the lymphomas is the type of cell the lymphoma is developed from.

Your doctor can tell the type of lymphoma you have by using a microscope to look for Reed-Sternberg cells. Reed-Sternberg cells are a type of cell that appears in people with Hodgkin disease, or Hodgkin lymphoma. The number of these Reed-Sternberg cells increase as the disease advances. Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma does not contain Reed-Sternberg cells.

Are the symptoms of Hodgkin and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma different?

Though the symptoms of Hodgkin and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma can be difficult to detect, both symptoms include painless swelling of lymph nodes that can be found anywhere on your body. Hodgkin’s lymphoma is more likely to begin in lymph nodes in your upper body, such as your neck, underarms and chest. Both types of lymphoma may also be associated with other symptoms like weight loss, fevers and night sweats.

Who is at risk for Hodgkin and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma?

Age is the most common type of risk factor between Hodgkin and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. The average age of someone who is diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma is 60, while most Hodgkin lymphomas occur in people ages 15 to 24, or over 60.

What are the treatment options for both lymphomas?

The type of lymphoma, its location and prognosis determines your prognosis and treatment options. Many people treated for both lymphomas receive some form of chemotherapy, radiation therapy or immunotherapy, or a combination of them all. Bone marrow or stem cell transplantation may also be done under special circumstances.

What is the prognosis like?

Hodgkin lymphoma is considered one of the most treatable cancers, with more than 90 percent of patients surviving more than five years. Most patients with Hodgkin lymphoma live long and healthy lives following successful treatment.

Although slow growing forms of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma are currently not curable, the prognosis is still good. In certain patients, treatment may not be necessary until there are signs of progression.

Are research studies ongoing?

Researchers continue to discover more about how lymphoma begins, as well as other treatment options. Clinical trials are underway to find better ways of reducing symptoms and side effects of both lymphomas.

Learn more about cancer care at Edward-Elmhurst Health.

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