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

Medical Author: Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD
Medical Editor: William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

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. 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 cancerous material (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.

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 the fifth most common cancer among 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).