Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma and Hodgkin Lymphoma: What’s the Difference?

  • Hodgkin lymphoma is a malignancy of lymphocytes marked by the presence of Reed-Sternberg cells, mature B cells that have become malignant.
  • Non-Hodgkin lymphoma is also a malignancy of lymphocytes and can be derived from B cells or T cells.
  • The diseases are different in numerous ways and often follow different courses of progression.

Although the diseases may sound similar, there is a lot of difference between Hodgkin and non-Hodgkin lymphoma.

Both diseases are malignancies of a family of white blood cells known as lymphocytes, which help the body fight off infections and other diseases. Hodgkin lymphoma is marked by the presence of Reed-Sternberg cells, which are mature B cells that have become malignant, are unusually large, and carry more than one nucleus. The first sign of the disease is often the appearance of enlarged lymph nodes.

Non-Hodgkin lymphoma, by contrast, can be derived from B cells or T cells and can arise in the lymph nodes as well as other organs. (B cells and T cells play different roles in the body’s immune response to disease.)

The median age of patients with non-Hodgkin lymphoma is 60, but it occurs in all age groups. Hodgkin lymphoma most often occurs in people ages 15 to 24 and in people over 60. There are more than 60 distinct types of non-Hodgkin lymphoma, whereas Hodgkin lymphoma is a more homogeneous disease.

Lymphoma cells.
Lymphoma cells.

Symptoms of lymphoma

The two forms of lymphoma are marked by a painless swelling of the lymph nodes.

Hodgkin lymphomas are more likely to arise in the upper portion of the body (the neck, underarms, or chest).

Non-Hodgkin lymphoma can arise in lymph nodes throughout the body, but can also arise in normal organs. Patients with either type can have symptoms such as weight loss, fevers, and night sweats.

The diseases often follow different courses of progression. Hodgkin lymphoma tends to progress in an orderly fashion, moving from one group of lymph nodes to the next, and is often diagnosed before it reaches an advanced stage. Most patients with non-Hodgkin lymphoma are diagnosed at a more advanced stage.

How lymphoma is treated

Treatments vary depending on the type of disease, its aggressiveness, and location, along with the age and general health of the patient.

As a general rule, however, Hodgkin lymphoma is considered one of the most treatable cancers, with more than 90 percent of patients surviving more than five years. Survival rates for patients with non-Hodgkin lymphoma tend to be lower, but for certain types of the disease, the survival rates are similar to those of patients with Hodgkin lymphoma.

New treatment approaches, including the use of therapies that spur the immune system to attack cancerous lymphocytes, are showing considerable promise.