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Overview of Lymphoma

By

Peter Martin

, MD, Weill Cornell Medicine;


John P. Leonard

, MD, Weill Cornell Medicine

Last full review/revision Jun 2020| Content last modified Jun 2020
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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 (see table Comparison of Hodgkin Lymphoma and Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma).

Table
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Comparison of Hodgkin Lymphoma and Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma

Feature

Hodgkin Lymphoma

Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma

Nodal involvement

Typically localized to a specific group of nodes

Usually disseminated among > 1 nodal group

Spread

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

Infrequent

Frequent

Stage at diagnosis

Usually early

Usually advanced

Histologic classification in children

Usually one with a favorable prognosis

Usually aggressive

Lymphomas were once thought to be absolutely distinct from leukemias. However, better understanding of cell markers and tools used 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.

Malignant lymphoma cells can populate the bone marrow and the blood as well as the lymph nodes. This is more common in the low grade, or indolent, non-Hodgkin lymphomas, such as chronic lymphocytic leukemia/small lymphocytic lymphoma (CLL/SLL) or marginal zone lymphoma and the more aggressive mantle cell lymphoma.

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