Hodgkin's and Non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma: Differences and Similarities

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What are Hodgkin’s disease and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma (NHL)?

Both Hodgkin's disease (sometimes referred to as Hodgkin's lymphoma) and non-Hodgkin's lymphoma are cancers that originate in a type of white blood cell known as a lymphocyte, an important component of the body's immune system.

How are Hodgkin’s disease and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma (NHL) different?

Both of these malignancies may cause similar symptoms, but the conditions themselves are different. The distinction between Hodgkin's disease and non-Hodgkin's lymphoma is made upon examination of the cancer cells (from a biopsy or aspiration of the tumor tissue). The type of abnormal cells identified in the sample determines whether a lymphoma is classified as Hodgkin's disease or non-Hodgkin's lymphoma.

What are the statistics on Hodgkin’s disease and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma (NHL)?

Non-Hodgkin's lymphoma is much more common than Hodgkin's disease. In the United States, non-Hodgkin's lymphoma is the sixth most common cancer among males and females. Furthermore, the incidence of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma has been steadily increasing over the last decades. Non-Hodgkin's lymphoma is actually a heterogeneous group of over 30 types of cancers with differences in the microscopic appearance and biological characterization of the malignant lymphocytes. The different types of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma also have differences in their biologic behavior (such as the tendency to grow aggressively) that affect a patient's overall outlook (prognosis). The specific type of NHL also affects treatment planning.

Hodgkin's disease is much less common than non-Hodgkin's lymphoma and accounts for only about 1% of all cancers in the U.S. The incidence of this cancer has actually been declining in recent years, in contrast to the increases in non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. The diagnosis of Hodgkin's disease is confirmed by visualizing tissue samples using a microscope. When a biopsy from the cancer contains a certain type of cell termed a Reed-Sternberg cell, the lymphoma is classified as Hodgkin's disease.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 11/3/2015

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Non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma Treatment

A doctor will usually refer a patient to an oncologist for evaluation and treatment. Some large academic medical centers have oncologists who specialize in lymphomas.

The treatment plan depends mainly on the following:

  • The type of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma
  • Its stage (where the lymphoma is found)
  • How quickly the cancer is growing
  • The patient's age
  • Whether the patient has other health problems
  • If there are symptoms present such as fever and night sweats