The Difference between Hodgkin and Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma

Lymphoma is a type of cancer that attacks the immune system. Hodgkin lymphoma, also known as Hodgkin’s disease, and non-Hodgkin lymphoma are two well-known subtypes. Regional Cancer Care Associates, a network of cancer hospitals throughout Connecticut, Maryland, and New Jersey, explains the key differences between these two lymphoma types.

What Is Lymphoma?

Lymphoma starts in your body’s lymphatic system, more commonly called the immune system. This is the collection of organs responsible for fighting illness and keeping your body healthy. Lymphoma develops when a genetic mutation, or cancer, affects one of the organs in the lymphatic system. The mutation results in abnormal lymphocytes (a type of white blood cell) that cannot fight disease effectively.

Because lymphoma is a type of cancer, the diseased lymphocytes are reprogrammed to multiply extremely quickly and are unusually long-lived. As a result, the lymphoma spreads quickly as the diseased cells crowd out the body’s normal lymphocytes. Your body slowly loses its ability to fight illness while the lymph nodes, spleen, and liver swell with excess cells.

Telling the Difference

Hodgkin and non-Hodgkin lymphoma both affect the lymphocytes. The primary difference is in which cell type they attack. Hodgkin lymphoma results in a unique type of cell called a Reed-Sternberg cell, a large, mutant lymphocyte that often includes more than one nucleus. Its distinctive appearance makes it easy for oncologists to identify. By contrast, non-Hodgkin lymphoma does not create this abnormal cell type.

While the presence or lack of Reed-Sternberg cells is the most obvious indicator, other important differences between Hodgkin and non-Hodgkin lymphoma include the following:

  • Hodgkin lymphoma is less common than non-Hodgkin (0.5% and 4.3% of all new cancer cases, respectively).
  • Hodgkin is more likely to affect younger adults, while most non-Hodgkin patients are older than age 55.
  • Hodgkin most often appears in the upper body, including the neck, chest, or armpits, whereas non-Hodgkin arises anywhere in the body.
  • Hodgkin is easier to identify sooner, often resulting in more effective treatments.

Diagnosis and Treatment

Both types of lymphoma involve the same diagnosis strategies. The physician starts with a physical exam and X-ray to examine the body for swollen lymph nodes. These are followed by a blood test, lymph node biopsy, and bone marrow test to check for abnormal cells or imbalances in blood cells.

Treatment strategies for the two lymphomas are dissimilar, however. Treatment may not even be necessary for some patients with non-Hodgkin lymphoma, as some slow-spreading forms can simply be monitored over time. If the lymphoma begins to grow quickly, the doctor may prescribe a round of chemotherapy or radiation therapy.

By contrast, Hodgkin lymphoma is faster-growing, so treatment is more urgent. As with non-Hodgkin lymphoma, chemotherapy or radiation are often prescribed, but in severe cases an aggressive treatment such as a bone marrow transplant may be necessary.

Raising Awareness of Lymphoma

Understanding the difference between lymphoma types is essential to providing effective treatment. Based in Connecticut, Maryland, and New Jersey, Regional Cancer Care Associates is dedicated to treating lymphoma and educating the public about this and other types of cancer. To learn more or schedule treatment for yourself or a loved one, get in touch today.