Hodgkin's vs. Non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma: What's the Difference?


Hodgkin’s & Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma: What’s the Difference?

Lymphoma Ribbon

When discussing the complex disease known as cancer, it is surprisingly easy to follow along as to its primarily affected location. Most cancers are referred to by where the tumor is initially situated. Breast cancer, liver cancer, and testicular cancer are just a few of the straightforward examples. There are, however, some more obscure names used to identify other cancers. Lymphoma is a perfect example.

In conjunction with September’s designation as Lymphoma Awareness Month, we’ll today examine the disease in further depth.

Whether hearing ‘lymphoma’ for the first (or even tenth) time, it doesn’t paint an automatic picture of where the cancer is in the body. When making the connection between the lymphatic system and lymphoma, the mental image only becomes somewhat clearer. With further investigation, one will find that lymphoma is a cancer that impacts certain cells in the immune system. A normal lymphatic system carries a colorless fluid called lymph via tubes and lymph nodes. Lymph is transported to many parts of the body, such as the spleen, tonsils, thymus, and bone marrow. Various kinds of white blood cells are found within lymph and help fight disease within the body. Though, even with this understanding, lymphoma throws another wrench into the gears. Lymphoma diagnoses are then broken down into two types: Hodgkin’s and non-Hodgkin’s.

What is the difference between Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and Hodgkin’s lymphoma?

Medical professionals are able to distinguish non-Hodgkin’s from Hodgkin’s lymphoma (formerly referred to as Hodgkin’s disease) by examining the white blood cells affected by the disease. If the doctor does not detect what is known as a Reed-Sternberg cell, the lymphoma is classified as non-Hodgkin’s. If there are Reed-Sternberg cells present, it is classified as Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Reed-Sternberg cells are giant cells found in lymph fluid. They are relatively easy to identify under the microscope due to the fact that they are so large and often contain more than one nucleus.

Which type of lymphoma is more common?

Both forms of lymphoma are relatively rare. Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma is considered the more common type of lymphoma. There are an estimated 70,000 new cases per year in the United States. Hodgkin’s lymphoma, however, is even more rare than non-Hodgkin’s. It is estimated that there are only 8,000 new cases each year nationwide.

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Who is affected by Non-Hodgkin’s and Hodgkin’s lymphoma?

The average age for people diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma is 60-years-old. Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, however, is most common in people aged 15- to 24-years-old as well as people over the age of 60. The most common symptom is swelling of the lymph nodes in the abdomen, groin, neck, or underarm. Other symptoms may include an enlarged spleen or liver, fever, weight loss, sweating and chills, and fatigue.

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Do the different types of lymphoma impact different parts of the body?

While both non-Hodgkin’s and Hodgkin’s lymphoma effect the lymphatic system, they often impact different parts of the system. Hodgkin’s lymphoma typically occurs in the lymph nodes found in the neck, chest, or underarms. From there, it often progresses in a predictable fashion moving from one group of lymph nodes to the next. Progressing in such an orderly fashion allows the cancer to be detected and treated at an early stage. Hodgkin’s lymphoma is recognized as one of the most treatable cancers, with over 90% of patients surviving more than five years. Non-Hodgkin’s, however, often arises in various parts of the body. It can surface in similar lymph nodes as Hodgkin’s lymphoma, or even in the groin and abdomen. Because of this, most cases of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma is diagnosed at an advanced stage.

While lymphoma is often categorized into Hodgkin’s and non-Hodgkin’s, there are even more sub categories following those. Hodgkin’s lymphoma can further be broken down into classical and nodular lymphocyte-predominant. As for non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, there are over 60 subtypes within that diagnosis. While recognizing each varying form of lymphoma is a feat in itself, knowing the difference between the two types will provide a strong understanding of this particular blood cancer.

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