Lymphoma is a group of cancers that develop in white blood cells called lymphocytes. These white blood cells consist of:

  • T cells
  • B cells
  • natural killer (NK) cells

Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma (NHL) describes one group of cancers that affect lymphocytes. These cancers share some common characteristics that separate them from Hodgkin’s lymphoma, another type.

The World Health Organization (WHO) divides NHL into more than 60 subtypes depending on:

  • the types of cells affected
  • how the cells look under a microscope
  • certain genetic changes

NHLs are broadly categorized into B-cell lymphomas and T-cell and NK-cell lymphomas. Doctors may also characterize them as aggressive (fast-growing) and indolent (slow-growing). Learn about the causes of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

B-cell lymphomas make up 85–90% of cases of NHL.

In this article, we examine common types of NHL and what distinguishes them from one another.

Aggressive NHL are lymphomas that are fast-growing and fast-moving. About 60% of NHLs are aggressive, according to the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.

Aggressive B-cell lymphomas

Aggressive B-cell lymphomas start in the B cells.

Types of aggressive B-cell lymphomas can include:

  • Diffuse large B-cell lymphoma (DLBCL): DLBCL is the most common type of lymphoma and makes up about one-third of all cases of NHL. It tends to develop quickly but often responds to treatment: About 75% of people having no signs of this cancer after treatment.
  • Mantle cell lymphoma: This type makes up 5% of NHLs. Mantle cell lymphoma can grow slowly or quickly but has usually already spread throughout the body by the time it’s diagnosed.
  • Lymphoblastic lymphoma: Lymphoblastic lymphoma makes up 2% of NHLs. It can develop from B cells or T cells. It has a similar treatment to acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL).
  • Burkitt lymphoma: In the United States, this type of lymphoma is associated with a past infection with the Epstein-Barr virus, which is the virus that causes infectious mononucleosis. It may also occur in people who take immunosuppressant medications.

Less common types of aggressive B-cell lymphomas can include:

Indolent B-cell lymphomas

Indolent NHL are lymphomas that are slow-growing and chronic. About 40% of NHLs are indolent.

Indolent B-cell lymphomas can include:

  • Follicular lymphoma: Follicular lymphoma is the second most common form of NHL. It makes up 1 in 5 lymphomas in the United States. Follicular lymphoma tends to progress slowly. It often responds to treatment but can be difficult to cure. Treatment can range from watching and waiting to radiation therapy, chemotherapy, and immunotherapy.
  • Chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL)/small lymphocytic lymphoma (SLL): CLL and SLL are essentially the same disease. If most of the cancer cells are in your bloodstream and bone marrow, it’s called CLL. When most cancer cells are found in your lymph nodes, it’s called SLL.
  • Marginal zone lymphoma: Marginal zone lymphoma is a group of slow-growing lymphomas that arise in B cells that look small under a microscope. They make up roughly 8% of NHL cases.
  • Mucosa-associated lymphoid tissue (MALT) lymphoma: MALT is the most common subtype of marginal zone lymphoma. Doctors categorize it further based on its location.
  • Waldenström macroglobulinemia or lymphoplasmacytic lymphoma: Cancer cells in this type of rare cancer resemble both plasma cells and lymphocytes.
  • Hairy cell leukemia: Despite the name, this slow-growing cancer affects B lymphocytes.

T-cell and NK-cell lymphomas

Aggressive T-cell and NK-cell lymphomas start in the T and natural killer (NK) cells. Types can include:

  • Peripheral T-cell lymphoma (PTCL): Peripheral T-cell lymphoma is a group of lymphomas that develop in T cells and NK cells. “Peripheral” means it arises in lymph tissue outside your bone marrow. They make up between 5 and 15% of NHLs in Western countries and may require high dose chemotherapy and a stem cell transplant.
  • Angioimmunoblastic T-cell lymphoma (AITL): This is a subtype of PTCL.
  • Systemic anaplastic large cell lymphoma (ALCL): ALCL is a rare type of NHL, making up only 1% of cases.
  • Lymphoblastic lymphoma: This type can develop from B or T cells.
  • Cutaneous T-cell lymphoma (CTCL): This type starts in the skin.

More rare types can include:

  • hepatosplenic T-cell lymphoma
  • enteropathy-associated intestinal T-cell lymphoma
  • extranodal natural killer/T-cell lymphoma (ENK/TCL), nasal type
  • adult T-cell leukemia/lymphoma

The overall 5-year survival rate for all types of NHL is about 74%. This number is based on data from people who received a diagnosis between 2013 and 2019.

An individual’s outlook with NHL depends on the particular type of lymphoma they have, as survival rates can vary widely by type and cancer stage.

Factors that affect a person’s outlook can include:

  • their age and overall health
  • cancer stage and how far it has spread
  • factors in the genetics of the tumor
  • how the cancer responds to treatment
  • the blood level of lactate dehydrogenase (LDH), which goes up with the amount of lymphoma in the body

Learn more about the outlook for people with NHL.

How many types of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma are there?

There are more than 60 types of NHL.

What is the most common subtype of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma?

The most common subtype of NHL is diffuse large B-cell lymphoma (DLBCL). This type makes up about one-third of all NHL diagnoses.

What are the two main groups of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma?

Doctors typically categorize NHL by the cell type, as either B-cell lymphomas or T-cell and NK-cell lymphomas. Doctors may also categorize them as aggressive (fast-growing) or indolent (slow-growing).

NHL can be broadly categorized as B-cell lymphomas or T-cell and NK-cell lymphomas, or by aggressive and indolent NHL. Most types of NHL affect your B cells.

The symptoms of many types of lymphoma are similar. They’re usually impossible to differentiate without lab tests analyzing your blood and bone marrow cells.

You can talk with a doctor if you notice any symptoms or if you have questions about NHL.