Multiple myeloma and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma are both blood cancers. They’re differentiated based on what type of cells the cancer develops in and where it develops.

Multiple myeloma forms in white blood cells called plasma cells, typically in your bone marrow.

Lymphoma also develops in cells that become blood cells. But lymphoma cells are typically found in your lymph nodes or other parts of your lymph system.

Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma makes up about 90% of lymphomas. It’s differentiated from the other primary category, Hodgkin’s lymphoma, based on the appearance of cells under a microscope.

There are about 60 different types of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Some are very aggressive and require intense treatment, while others are slow growing and may never need treatment.

In this article, we take a closer look at the similarities and differences between multiple myeloma and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

Here’s a brief look at how multiple myeloma and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma compare. All statistics refer to the United States.

MyelomaNon-Hodgkin’s lymphoma
Cells involvedplasma cellslymphocytes, a group of white blood cells that include plasma cells
Estimated cases in 202234,470 new cases80,470 new cases
Lifetime risk1 in 1321 in 52 for men and 1 in 42 for women
Median age of diagnosis65 years67 years
Affects children?extremely rareabout 800 children per year
5-year relative survival56%73%

Researchers aren’t exactly sure what causes myeloma and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. They develop when gene mutations in certain blood cells cause the cells to replicate uncontrollably.

A combination of environmental and genetic factors likely plays a role in the development of these cancers. Here are some of the risk factors researchers have identified for non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and myeloma:

Non-Hodgkin’s lymphomaMyeloma
male sex male sex
more likely in white Americans than in African Americans or Asian AmericansAfrican American ethnicity
possibly having overweighthaving obesity
family historyfamily history
increasing ageincreasing age
radiation exposureradiation exposure
exposure to chemicals such as benzene and some herbicidesexposure to chemicals such as benzene and some herbicides
immunosuppressionhaving another plasma cell disease such as monoclonal gammopathy of undetermined significance or solitary plasmacytoma
autoimmune disease
some infections such as human T-cell lymphotropic virus or HIV
breast implants

Does having one of these cancers increase the risk of developing a second cancer?

People with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma are at an increased risk of developing a second cancer. They can develop any type of cancer, including myeloma.

However, the American Cancer Society doesn’t list myeloma as one of the most common second cancers in people with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

Chemotherapy treatment can also cause changes to the DNA of the bone marrow and potentially increase the risk of second cancers.

The secondary cancers most common in people with myeloma are acute myeloid leukemia and myelodysplastic syndrome.

Was this helpful?

Signs and symptoms of multiple myeloma and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma are often nonspecific. They can include:

Non-Hodgkin’s lymphomaMyeloma
loss of appetiteloss of appetite
shortness of breathshortness of breath
severe or frequent infectionssevere or frequent infections
easily bruising or bleedingeasily bruising or bleeding
unintentional weight lossunintentional weight loss
enlarged lymph nodesbone weakness
chillsbone fractures
fatiguebone pain
swollen bellyextreme thirst
chest painfrequent urination
drenching night sweatskidney problems
abdominal pain

Doctors start the process of diagnosing multiple myeloma and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma by considering your medical history, family history, and symptoms.

They also perform a physical exam to screen for potential symptoms of blood cancer. For example, most people with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma visit a doctor after they develop a persistent lump.

After your initial screening, a doctor will likely recommend more specific tests.

Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma

A lymph node biopsy is needed to confirm a diagnosis of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. This involves taking part or all of a lymph node, so its cells can be analyzed in a lab. A bone marrow biopsy may also be done.

Imaging tests are used to:

  • determine the extent of the cancer
  • monitor whether treatment is working
  • look for signs of the cancer returning after treatment

Imaging tests may include:

A doctor may also order supportive blood tests to help determine your overall health and how advanced your cancer is. They might order:

Multiple myeloma

If your symptoms are suggestive of myeloma, a doctor might recommend the following blood chemistry tests:

  • testing for high creatinine levels that suggest your kidneys aren’t working well
  • testing for low albumin levels
  • testing for high calcium levels
  • testing for high LDH levels, which are associated with a poorer outlook
  • quantitative immunoglobin blood testing to measure levels of antibodies in your blood
  • serum-free light chain testing
  • serum protein electrophoresis (SPEP) testing
  • beta-2 microglobulin testing to look for a protein created by myeloma cells

A doctor may also recommend a urine test to look for myeloma protein.

They may also recommend analyzing a section of your bone marrow with a procedure called bone marrow aspiration and biopsy, in which a long needle is used to take a small bone marrow sample for lab analysis.

As for non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, for myeloma, a variety of imaging tests are used to help monitor treatment and see how far cancer has spread.

Myeloma and lymphoma are treated differently. Here’s a look at the treatment options.

Multiple myeloma

Treatment for myeloma often involves a combination of 2 or 3 drugs. The specific drugs depend on your health and whether you’re eligible for a stem cell transplant. A common combination is:

  • bortezomib
  • lenalidomide
  • dexamethasone

If treatment doesn’t work, or if the cancer comes back, doctors will recommend a different combination.

Treatment for bone disease often includes bisphosphonates with chemotherapy, sometimes with radiation therapy. Some people may be eligible for chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) T-cell therapy after other treatments fail, although it can cause serious side effects.

Supportive treatments might include:

  • antibiotics
  • blood transfusions
  • intravenous immunoglobulin

Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma

Treatment for non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma may involve “watchful waiting” if the cancer develops slowly and you don’t have any serious symptoms.

Chemotherapy is usually the primary treatment for non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Steroids are often combined with chemotherapy to make it more effective. Chemotherapy may also be combined with biological therapy or radiation therapy.

Some types of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma are treated with monoclonal antibodies. These medications signal to your immune system to attack cancer cells.

The relative 5-year survival rate is a measure of how many people with a cancer are alive five years after diagnosis.

Multiple myeloma

The outlook for people with myeloma is best when the cancer is caught early. Here’s a look at the relative 5-year survival rate:

StageSurvival rate
All stages combined56%

Factors generally linked to better survival include:

  • earlier stage
  • younger age
  • good overall health
  • good kidney function

Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma

The outlook for people with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma depends on the subtype. The overall 5-year relative survival rate is 73%.

Here’s a look at the survival rates by stage for the two most common subtypes:

Diffuse large B-cell lymphomaSurvival rate
All stages combined64%
Follicular lymphomaSurvival rate
All stages combined90%

In general, factors linked to a good outlook for people with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma include:

  • age 60 and below
  • early stage cancer
  • no lymphoma outside nodes
  • able to perform daily activities
  • normal serum LDH

Here are some frequently asked questions people have about myeloma and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

Can you have multiple myeloma and lymphoma at the same time?

Although rare, some case studies in medical journals report people who have had myeloma and lymphoma at the same time.

Does multiple myeloma affect the lymph nodes?

Myeloma that starts in a lymph node is extremely rare, with only about 40 cases reported in the medical literature. However, about 20% of people with relapsed myeloma have cancer spread outside the bone marrow. Lymph nodes are one of the most common places relapsed myeloma spreads to.

Which is worse, multiple myeloma or non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma?

Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma has a higher relative 5-year survival rate overall, but people with some subtypes may have a poorer outlook.

Does multiple myeloma or non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma run in families?

Family history is a risk factor for both myeloma and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Most people with myeloma don’t have a family history.

Multiple myeloma and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma are two types of blood cancer. Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma develops in a type of white blood cell called lymphocytes. Myeloma develops in a specific lymphocyte called plasma cells.

It’s impossible to know whether you have myeloma or lymphoma without a proper medical diagnosis. You can start the diagnosis process by visiting a medical professional.