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Comparing Hodgkin lymphoma and non-Hodgkin lymphoma

Both non-Hodgkin lymphoma and Hodgkin lymphoma start in the lymph nodes, which are part of the lymphatic system. Lymph nodes are mostly made up of lymphocytes. Lymphocytes are a type of white blood cell that help fight infection. Lymphocytes are a very important part of the immune system.

The main difference between non-Hodgkin lymphoma and Hodgkin lymphoma is the type of lymphocyte that develops the cancer. To tell the difference, doctors look at a person’s white blood cells with a biopsyIf the doctor sees what are called Reed-Sternberg cells, the cancer is Hodgkin lymphoma. These cells are not found in non-Hodgkin lymphoma.

While both non-Hodgkin lymphoma and Hodgkin lymphoma start in the lymphatic system. But, they usually grow in different parts of the system.

  • Hodgkin lymphoma usually grows in the lymph nodes in the neck, chest or armpits. It usually spreads in a certain way, moving from one group of lymph nodes to the next ones in line.
  • Non-Hodgkin lymphoma can grow in the same places as Hodgkin lymphoma, but it can also affect lymph nodes in the groin and belly (abdomen). Also, non-Hodgkin lymphoma can spread to lymph nodes anywhere in the body, not necessarily spreading from one lymph node to the next.

Non-Hodgkin lymphoma is more common than Hodgkin lymphoma and is usually found in older patients. The average age of those diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma is 60 years old. Hodgkin lymphoma is more common in people in their early 20s and in people over 55 years old.1

Treatment options for both non-Hodgkin lymphoma and Hodgkin lymphoma are very similar. They include chemotherapy, radiation, immunotherapy alone or often in combination. However, the specific type of chemotherapy, chemotherapy schedule and timing of radiation are different. Stem cell transplantation and certain monoclonal antibodies are also options for both. Patients with a slow-growing non-Hodgkin lymphoma may not need any treatment, but they will be monitored closely.

For more information about non-Hodgkin lymphoma and Hodgkin lymphoma, visit our resource center.

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1American Cancer Society. Cancer Facts & Figures 2021. Atlanta: American Cancer Society; 2021.