What's the difference between Hodgkin's lymphoma and non-Hodgkin's lymphoma?

Answers from Rajiv K. Pruthi, M.B.B.S.

Both Hodgkin's lymphoma and non-Hodgkin's lymphoma are lymphomas — a type of cancer that begins in a subset of white blood cells called lymphocytes. Lymphocytes are an integral part of your immune system, which protects you from germs.

The main difference between Hodgkin's lymphoma and non-Hodgkin's lymphoma is in the specific lymphocyte each involves.

A doctor can tell the difference between Hodgkin's lymphoma and non-Hodgkin's lymphoma by examining the cancer cells under a microscope. If in examining the cells, the doctor detects the presence of a specific type of abnormal cell called a Reed-Sternberg cell, the lymphoma is classified as Hodgkin's. If the Reed-Sternberg cell is not present, the lymphoma is classified as non-Hodgkin's.

Many subtypes of lymphoma exist, and your doctor will use laboratory tests to examine a sample of your lymphoma cells to determine your specific subtype. Expect to wait a few days to receive results from these specialized tests.

Your type of lymphoma helps your doctor determine your prognosis and your treatment options. The types of lymphoma have very different disease courses and treatment choices, so an accurate diagnosis is an integral part of getting the care you need.

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Rajiv K. Pruthi, M.B.B.S.

Oct. 10, 2017