Leukemia vs. Lymphoma: Origins, Types, and Treatments

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  • Leukemia vs. Lymphoma: Origins, Types, and Treatments

    Leukemia vs. Lymphoma: Origins, Types, and Treatments

    Cancer is one of the most feared diseases, and it can affect all parts of the body, including the blood. Leukemia and lymphoma are both blood cancers.

    According to the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, approximately 48,610 Americans were diagnosed leukemia, and 79,030 were diagnosed with lymphoma in 2013. Such diseases claim a life every 10 minutes.

    While the two cancers share certain symptoms, there are stark differences between their origins, symptoms, and treatments.

  • Leukemia and Lymphoma Origins

    Leukemia and Lymphoma Origins

    Both leukemia and lymphoma result from problems with white blood cells.

    In leukemia, bone marrow produces too many white blood cells that don’t naturally die off in the way that normal aging blood cells do. Instead, they keep dividing and ultimately take over healthy red blood cells, which your body depends on for normal oxygen and nutrient transport. Leukemia also may start in the lymph nodes.

    Lymphoma often begins in the lymph nodes, which are small tissues that help in your body’s fight against infection. Certain types of lymphoma also may occur due to the spread of abnormal white blood cells in other parts of the body.  

  • Types of Leukemia

    Types of Leukemia

    Leukemia can be either acute or chronic. Acute cases cause the cancer to spread rapidly. Chronic leukemia is more common, and grows slower at the beginning stages. There are four main types of leukemia, each classified by the growth rate and origins of the cancer cells. These include:

    • acute myeloid leukemia
    • chronic myeloid leukemia
    • acute lymphoblastic leukemia
    • chronic lymphocytic leukemia
  • Symptoms of Leukemia

    Symptoms of Leukemia

    Leukemia is typically a slow-moving disease, so you might not feel the symptoms right away. Over time, the effects of having a surplus of white blood cells coupled with decreasing numbers of red blood cells can take its toll on the body. Some common symptoms are:

    • easy bruising
    • bleeding
    • excessive fatigue
    • night sweats and fevers
    • increased body infections
    • headaches
  • Leukemia Treatment Options

    Leukemia Treatment Options

    Treatment for leukemia is based on your condition at diagnosis. If the cancer is slow moving, your doctor might use a “watchful waiting” approach. This is most common in chronic lymphocytic leukemia that often causes no symptoms.

    Treatments that prevent abnormal cells from forming in the blood and lymph nodes include:

    • chemotherapy
    • radiation therapy
    • stem cell transplants
    • targeted therapy (drugs that prevent further abnormal cell growth)
  • Lymphoma: Hodgkin vs. Non-Hodgkin

    Lymphoma: Hodgkin vs. Non-Hodgkin

    Unlike leukemia, lymphoma specifically affects the lymph nodes. The types are based on the origins of the cancer cells. Some cases start in the lymphatic system, while some lymphomas begin in the white blood cells like myeloid leukemia does.

    These cancers are also called non-Hodgkin lymphomas. They occur when T- or B-cells within white blood cells become abnormal. 

    On the other hand, Hodgkin disease originates with an enlarged lymph node. It then spreads to other lymph nodes, and eventually to other organs like the lungs. Hodgkin disease is not as common as non-Hodgkin lymphoma.

  • Signs of Lymphoma

    Signs of Lymphoma

    Symptoms depend on whether you have Hodgkin disease or non-Hodgkin lymphoma.

    Hodgkin disease can cause:

    • swollen, but painless lymph nodes
    • loss of appetite and weight loss
    • itchy skin
    • fever and night sweats

    Non-Hodgkin lymphoma can cause the same symptoms, but signs can also include:

    • breathing difficulties
    • chest pain
    • swollen, painful abdomen
    • excessive fatigue
  • Treating Lymphoma

    Treating Lymphoma

    Like leukemia, the treatment options for lymphoma depend on the extent of the cancer diagnosis. In Hodgkin disease, the cancer cells are easier to treat if they’re still in the lymph nodes. Chemotherapy and radiation therapy are the most common treatment options for this type of lymphoma.

    Such therapies are also used to treat non-Hodgkin disease, but there are other options similar to leukemia treatments. For example, an oncologist may use targeted therapy to directly prevent white blood cells from becoming abnormal.

  • Outlook for Both Cancers

    Outlook for Both Cancers

    Leukemia and lymphoma grow slower than other cancers. While this doesn’t mean you should be complacent, it does mean that the cancer more treatable if caught in its early stages.

    According to the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, there was an overall five-year survival rate of 59 percent for leukemia patients between 2003 and 2009. The organization reported an 88-percent survival rate for lymphoma patients during the same timeframe.

    Despite the rarity of Hodgkin disease, it is curable if caught early.

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