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It’s Blood Cancer Awareness Month: Spotlight on Lymphoma

by Laurie Wertich, Medically Reviewed by Dr. C.H. Weaver M.D. 4/2022

Lymphoma and leukemia are both blood cancers, meaning that they involve cells of the blood or bone marrow. The American Cancer Society (ACS) estimates that there will be 81,080 new cases and 21,270 deaths from Lymphoma that will occur in the United States this year.

There are two main types of lymphoma: Hodgkin and non-Hodgkin. These types of lymphomas differ in how they behave, spread, and respond to treatment, so it is important to tell them apart.

Hodgkin disease (Hodgkin lymphoma or HL) starts in the white blood cells called lymphocytes. Lymphocytes are part of the immune system. The lymph system helps to fight infections or disease, and helps move fluid in the body, and is mainly composed of lymphoid tissue, fluid, and lymph vessels, which carry the fluid between lymph nodes. The lymphoid tissue is mostly made up of lymphocytes (where this cancer originates) which consist of two types: B lymphocytes (B cells) and T lymphocytes (T cells). Normal B cells and T cells have different jobs. Because lymphoid tissue is in many parts of the body, Hodgkin disease can start almost anywhere, and usually spreads from lymph node to lymph node via the lymph vessels. Most often it starts in lymph nodes in the upper part of the body; in the chest, in the neck, or under the arms.

There are different types of Hodgkin disease and further subgroups under those, and each is classified by how the cells look under the microscope. Learn more here.

Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma (NHL) is the same in that it originates in the lymphocytes and has many types and sub-groups under its umbrella. Both NHL and HL are characterized by a painless swelling of the lymph nodes, however NHL can arise in lymph nodes throughout the body and can also arise in normal organs. Patients with either type can have symptoms such as weight loss, fevers, and night sweats, but NHL is more common and has many more distinct types than HL.

Another difference is in the manner of progression; HL is often diagnosed before it reaches an advanced stage and moves in a more systematic fashion from lymph node to lymph node, while patients with NHL are usually diagnosed at a more advanced stage of the disease.

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