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Overview of Lymphoma

By Carol S. Portlock, MD, Professor of Clinical Medicine; Attending Physician, Lymphoma Service, Weill Cornell University Medical College; Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center

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Lymphomas are a heterogeneous group of tumors arising in the reticuloendothelial and lymphatic systems. The major types are Hodgkin lymphoma and non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL— Comparison of Hodgkin Lymphoma and Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma).

Comparison of Hodgkin Lymphoma and Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma


Hodgkin Lymphoma

Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma

Nodal involvement

Localized to a specific group of nodes

Usually disseminated among > 1 nodal group


Tends to spread in an orderly, contiguous fashion

Spreads noncontiguously

Effect on Waldeyer ring and mesenteric lymph nodes

Usually does not affect

Commonly affects mesenteric nodes

May affect Waldeyer ring

Extranodal involvement



Stage at diagnosis

Usually early

Usually advanced

Histologic classification in children

Usually one with a favorable prognosis

Usually high grade

Lymphomas were once thought to be absolutely distinct from leukemias. However, better understanding of cell markers and tools with which to evaluate those markers now show that the distinction between these 2 cancers is often vague. The notion that lymphoma is relatively restricted to the lymphatic system and leukemias to the bone marrow, at least in early stages, is also not always true.

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