Lymphomas are cancers that develop in a type of white blood cell called a lymphocyte.
They’re categorized into two broad categories called Hodgkin’s lymphoma (also known as Hodgkin’s disease, Hodgkin lymphoma, and Hodgkin disease) and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Which type you have depends on the type of cells your cancer develops in.
In this article, you can learn about the primary differences between these types of lymphoma, including their symptoms, treatments, and risk factors.
The main difference between Hodgkin’s lymphoma and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma is whether you have a type of cell called Reed-Sternberg cells. These cells are only present in people with Hodgkin’s lymphoma. The National Cancer Institute says that the number of these cells found in your body increases as your disease progresses.
Reed-Sternberg cells are large, atypical cells that sometimes contain more than one nucleus. The nucleus is the part of a cell that contains genetic information. Doctors can tell if you have Reed-Sternberg cells by analyzing a sample of your cancer using a special microscope.
Here’s a look at some other differences:
|Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma||Hodgkin’s lymphoma|
|Rarity||rare but more common||rare but less common|
|Outlook||generally poorer||generally better|
|Cancerous cells||B-cells or T-cells and natural killer cells||B-cells (Reed-Sternberg cells)|
|Location||appear in lymph nodes throughout your body or in organs||more likely to appear in lymph nodes in your chest, neck, or underarms|
Symptoms for both types of lymphoma can be similar. They may vary depending on the particular type of lymphoma you have and how far the disease has progressed.
Some people may not have symptoms when they’re diagnosed. Other people can have life-threatening complications if the disease has spread to other important parts of the body.
Symptoms may include:
Both types of cancer are relatively rare, but non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma is more common in the United States.
The American Cancer Society (ACS) estimates that about 81,560 people will be diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma in the United States in 2021. Men have about a 1 in 41 chance of developing non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma in their lifetime, and women have a 1 in 52 chance.
In comparison, the ACS estimates that about 8,830 Americans will be diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma in 2021.
The following are other risk factors for developing each type of lymphoma.
The average age of diagnosis for Hodgkin’s lymphoma is 39, according to the ACS. It’s most common in young adulthood or in people over the age of 55.
The median age of diagnosis for non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma is 67, according to a
Some subcategories of lymphoma are most common in young people.
The ACS also reports that Hodgkin’s lymphoma occurs slightly more often in men than in women.
The overall risk of developing non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma is higher in men, but some subtypes are more common in women.
In the United States, white people are more likely to develop non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma than African American or Asian American people.
Brothers and sisters of young people with Hodgkin’s lymphoma have a high risk of also developing it. Identical twins have a very high risk.
Having a child, parent, or sibling with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma increases your chances of developing non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma as well.
Weakened immune system
People taking medication to suppress their immune systems are at an increased risk of developing both Hodgkin’s lymphoma and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. People living with HIV or autoimmune diseases are also at a higher risk.
Epstein-Barr virus and other infections
The Epstein-Barr virus causes the disease mononucleosis, commonly known as mono. People who have had mono have an increased risk of developing Hodgkin’s lymphoma. But the risk is still very small, estimated by the ACS at 1 in 1,000.
The Epstein-Barr virus has also been linked to a particular type of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma called Burkitt’s lymphoma, which is most common in children living in Africa.
Other viruses linked to the development of some specific types of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma include:
Some bacterial infections linked to types of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma include:
- Campylobacter jejuni
- Chlamydophila psittaci
- Helicobacter pylori
Drugs, radiation, and chemicals
Some reports suggest that chemicals such as benzene and some herbicides and insecticides may increase your risk of developing non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. However, research is ongoing.
Some chemotherapy and rheumatoid arthritis drugs may also increase your risk of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. But the connection still isn’t entirely clear and research is also ongoing.
People exposed to high levels of radiation, like those who have survived an atomic bomb or nuclear accident, have an increased risk of developing non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, some types of leukemia, and thyroid cancer.
People receiving radiation to treat other types of cancer such as Hodgkin’s lymphoma are at a slightly increased risk of developing non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma in the future.
Breast implants have been linked to a type of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma called anaplastic large cell lymphoma, according to the ACS.
Treatment for both types of cancer depends on many factors, including your:
- disease stage
- other health conditions
Chemotherapy is the most common treatment for Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Researchers are continuing to investigate the potential benefits of other treatment options, such as immunotherapy and targeted therapy.
Your doctor may use surgery (such as an excisional biopsy) to obtain a diagnosis of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, but it’s rare to treat non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma with surgery.
|Treatment||Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma||Hodgkin’s lymphoma|
|watchful waiting||✓||in pregnant people|
|stem cell transplant||✓||under investigation|
|steroid therapy||in pregnant people|
|vaccine therapy||under investigation|
Hodgkin’s lymphoma is one of the most curable cancers. It typically has a better outlook than non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. However, many factors can affect your outlook, such as:
- your age
- the stage and extent of your cancer
- your overall health
- your specific type of lymphoma
The National Cancer Institute’s Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results (SEER) program lists the relative 5-year survival rate for non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma as
For both types of lymphoma, the outlook is best in children and becomes worse with age. Here’s how the relative 5-year survival rate changes with age, according to SEER data:
|Age||Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma||Hodgkin’s lymphoma|
It’s important to understand that the numbers shown in the table above are average survival rates based on age only, not cancer stage.
Stage plays a significant role in how any type of cancer progresses or responds to treatment. It’s best to talk with your doctor about your individual outlook.
Lymphoma is a group of cancers that develop in immune cells called lymphocytes.
The two main categories of lymphoma are Hodgkin’s lymphoma and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. The main difference between them is the atypical cells called Reed-Sternberg cells. These cells are only seen in Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
Both types of lymphoma can be further divided into subcategories. Knowing the specific type of lymphoma you have can help determine the best treatment options for you.