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.

What are the 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 is lymphoma treated? Is it curable?

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.

12 thoughts on “Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma and Hodgkin Lymphoma: What’s the Difference?”

  1. Curious if an older sibling had CLL how likely would younger siblings get this?
    Thank you.

    • Dear Colleen – Thank you for your comment and for reading our blog. Although it is a rare disease, family history is a risk factor for the development of CLL. For first-degree relatives of CLL patients (parents, siblings, and children), the risk is estimated to be about 5 to 7 times higher than the general population. We hope this is helpful. If you have questions about your specific risk, please ask your doctor. Wishing you all the best. – DFCI

  2. This article is very informative, my take on this. There are a few distinct differences between HL and NHL including how the disease spreads, where tumors are most commonly found in the body and variances in symptomology experienced by individuals. Additionally, treatment protocols are very different. HL is not as common as NHL and the age of onset for HL occurs in a bimodal (2 age time points) distribution with the average age of onset at 28 years and a less substantive peak after age 55, whereas it is less common to see cases of NHL in people under age 50 . For both HL and NHL the most common location of the tumors is in the lymph nodes and occurs above the collarbone.

  3. I am in remission from NHL and I also have relapsing remitting multiple sclerosis. Are people with auto immune diseases more likely to develop NHL?

    • Dear Jeannie —

      Thank you for your question and for reading Insight. While we cannot comment on your specific medical background, problems with regulation of the immune system can lead to both autoimmune diseases and, in some cases, lymphoma. We hope this is helpful! All the best.

  4. What is your personal opinion on the possible connection of HL and NHL to exposure to chemicals containing glyphosate?


  5. My Dr threw the word HLD b4 sending me away with a pile of tests I need to do tomorrow. I have to say in afraid, not for me but my 4 year old daughter. Its just me and I don’t know what to expect if it does turn up as cancer. What kind of quality of life will I be able to offer her, what kind of care will I need and will it take away from my care for the one thing I that’ll get me through this. What should I plan? Thank you

  6. Dear Ldavis,

    Thank you for your comment. We’re very sorry to hear of your medical troubles, and understand your concern for your daughter, which is normal at such an emotional time. We have resources on our website for parents being treated for cancer, which can help make life easier for you and your daughter through treatment:

    We also recommend you speak to a member of your care team, such as a social worker, about your worries, as they should be able to provide you with helpful resources and support as well.

    We wish you all the best.

  7. Im 60 and not menopausal any more. I’ve been suffering from sweats where either at night or during the day, where I feel soaking wet all over my body. I look like I’ve just came out a shower wet and not dried myself. I also suffer dryness in my vagina, tiredness, bad mood swings, and short term memory. I do get some pain discomfort near my left armpit, sometimes the odd chest pain. Should I get checked out for Non Hodgkin Lymphoma,?

    • Hi Linda,

      Thank you for your message. Unfortunately, we cannot provide any medical advice without a consultation. We would recommend making an appointment with your doctor to discuss your health concerns. Please call us at 877-442-3324 if you would like to schedule a consultation, or second opinion.

      Wishing you all the best,

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