Nearly 86,000 people were diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL) and Hodgkin lymphoma (HL) in 2020, according to estimates from the National Cancer Institute. Non-Hodgkin lymphoma is the eighth most common cancer in the United States — it’s estimated to account for just over 4 percent of new cancers in 2020. Hodgkin lymphoma is less common — it’s estimated to account for 0.5 percent of new cancers in 2020. However, Hodgkin lymphoma is the most common cancer among teens 15 to 19 years old.
Lymphoma is a group of blood cancers that occur when certain types of white blood cells called lymphocytes develop abnormally and crowd out healthy cells. Lymphoma is split into two main categories: Hodgkin lymphoma (also called Hodgkin disease and Hodgkin’s lymphoma) and non-Hodgkin lymphoma (also called non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma). Lymphoma is related to other blood cancers, including leukemia, myeloma, and myeloproliferative neoplasms (MPNs).
Hodgkin and non-Hodgkin lymphoma originate in the lymphatic system, a part of the circulatory and immune systems. The lymphatic system is composed of the bone marrow; organs including the spleen, lymph nodes, and thymus; and vessels that transport fluids throughout the body. When functioning properly, the lymphatic system removes bacteria, excess fluid, and waste material from old and damaged cells.
Lymphoma starts in the lymph nodes and vessels of the lymphatic system. When lymphocytes develop genetic mutations, the abnormal cells can grow faster and live longer than healthy cells. Like other cancers, lymphoma is caused by genetic mutations that allow cells to divide and grow in a disorganized way. Mutations can be inherited or acquired. Acquired mutations are caused by normal aging, as well as exposure to carcinogens, such as radiation, certain chemicals, smoking, and some viruses.
Risk factors vary by the type of lymphoma. Some are associated with HL and NHL in general, and some are specific to certain types of HL or NHL.
Most risk factors, including age, genetic predisposition, and ethnicity, are beyond anyone’s control. If you are concerned you may have a high risk for developing lymphoma, focus on lowering your risk by changing the environmental factors within your control.
Several tests are used to diagnose Hodgkin and non-Hodgkin lymphoma. Some tests are used to confirm a diagnosis, while others are used to determine the type of lymphoma and the stage of the illness. Not everyone experiences obvious symptoms of lymphoma, and their cancer is found when routine blood work or other tests return abnormal results.
The following tests may be used to stage your lymphoma:
Learn more about the path to lymphoma diagnosis.
Many lymphoma symptoms can be caused by illnesses like the flu or by other cancers. Some symptoms of lymphoma can also be side effects of treatment. Lymphoma symptoms vary depending on which parts of your body are affected and the type of lymphoma. Some lymphoma symptoms are local, meaning they only affect a specific area of the body, while others are systemic, affecting the entire body.
Some common symptoms of lymphoma include:
Enlarged lymph nodes around the neck, underarms, or groin are the most common symptom of Hodgkin lymphoma. The following symptoms can also occur in HL:
In addition to swollen lymph nodes and B symptoms, people with NHL can also experience the following:
Read more about symptoms of lymphoma.
There are two primary types of Hodgkin lymphoma and dozens of types of non-Hodgkin lymphoma.
Hodgkin lymphoma can be divided into two primary subtypes: classical HL and nodular lymphocyte-predominant HL. Classical HL accounts for approximately 95 percent of people with Hodgkin lymphoma. Classical HL can be further broken down into the categories below, listed from most to least common:
Hodgkin lymphoma can be treated with chemotherapy, radiation, targeted therapies, immunotherapy, and occasionally stem cell transplant. Your treatment plan will be influenced by your type of HL, stage of disease, and other factors like age and health.
Non-Hodgkin lymphoma is an umbrella term for approximately 85 different subtypes of NHL. NHL is usually grouped by the type of white blood cell (lymphocyte) where the cancer originates and the aggressiveness of the cancer. The broad categories are B-cell lymphoma and T-cell lymphoma and aggressive and indolent (slow-growing) lymphomas.
B-cell lymphomas account for between 85 percent and 90 percent of non-Hodgkin lymphoma cases. B-cell lymphomas begin in B lymphocytes or B-cells. B lymphocytes are white blood cells that create proteins called antibodies.
The following are examples of aggressive B-cell lymphomas:
The following are examples of indolent B-cell lymphomas:
T-cell lymphomas are caused by changes to T lymphocytes, or T cells. The various types of T cells play a key role in the body’s immune response. Some T cells directly attack infected cells while others help to regulate the immune system.
The following are examples of aggressive T-cell lymphomas:
The following are examples of indolent T-cell lymphomas that affect the skin:
Each type of Hodgkin and non-Hodgkin lymphoma can be assigned a stage from 1 to 4, depending on how advanced it is. Stage 1 indicates the cancer is localized while stage 4 is the most widespread. Additional letters can be added to the staging number to describe symptoms. Staging is important for determining treatment.
Hodgkin lymphoma and non-Hodgkin lymphoma share many of the same symptoms and treatment methods, and are often diagnosed using similar methods. However, they have many distinguishing features.
An array of therapies are used to treat the many types of lymphoma, including chemotherapy, immunotherapy, targeted therapies, radiation therapy, and stem cell transplantation. Clinical trials may also be an option. The best treatment for you will be determined by your specific type of cancer as well as several additional factors, including your prognosis, age, and personal preferences. You may be treated with a combination of therapy types.
Aggressive lymphomas will likely require treatment right away, while indolent lymphomas may be treated with a watch and wait approach. During watch and wait, also called watchful waiting or active surveillance, you will be closely monitored by your doctor with regular appointments and blood tests. You may continue with this approach until there are signs or symptoms that indicate cancer is beginning to grow more quickly.
There are different treatment goals for different forms of Hodgkin lymphoma and non-Hodgkin lymphoma. In some cases, the goal of treatment is complete remission, meaning lymphoma is undetectable after treatment. In other cases, the goal may be to slow the growth of the lymphoma.
Learn more about treatments for lymphoma.
Chemotherapy, radiation, drug therapies, and stem cell transplants can all cause difficult side effects. Common side effects of lymphoma treatment include:
When someone has more than one health condition at the same time, the conditions are known as comorbidities. Comorbid conditions can influence your treatment options and possibly your prognosis.
A Dutch study of 904 people with NHL found the following conditions were prevalent in people with NHL:
A British study including more than 7,000 people with HL found the following conditions were prevalent in people with Hodgkin lymphoma:
In addition to the comorbidities listed above, HIV infection can greatly increase the likelihood of developing lymphoma. Nearly all HIV-related lymphomas are types of non-Hodgkin lymphoma. The two most common lymphomas in people with HIV are Burkitt’s lymphoma and diffuse large B-cell lymphoma. Lymphoma treatments are generally as effective in HIV-positive people as in HIV-negative people.
Other health conditions may be more likely to develop after lymphoma treatment. These include heart damage, lung damage, osteoporosis, and depression. Your doctor can help you better understand your individual risk factors for developing related conditions and recommend steps to lower your risk.
Read more about other health conditions related to lymphoma.
Many people diagnosed with aggressive lymphoma achieve complete remission and are even cured. Some indolent lymphomas, like CLL/SLL, are not curable but can be managed like a chronic illness. More effective treatments for lymphoma and other blood cancers have increased survival rates and rates of remission over the last decade.
Lymphoma Condition Guide