Hodgkins and Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma

Nicolas Kuritzky
Last Modified: November 1, 2001

Dear OncoLink "Ask the Experts,"
What is the difference between Hodgkins and Non-Hodgkins lymphoma? I read the web page,but did not see the difference between the two except that the cells look different. Why would the Hodgkins be the "better" of the two to have if you have lymphoma?  
Please let me know.

Nicolas Kuritzky, Editorial Assistant for OncoLink, responds:

Dear C,
Thank you for your interest and your question.

Hodgkins and Non-Hodgkins (NHL) lymphoma are similar in that they both arise from lymphoid tissues (e.g. lymph nodes or spleen). However, they have notable differences in their pathology (appearance under the microscope) and prognosis.

On a cellular level, Hodgkins disease is characterized by the presence of giant neoplastic (abnormal) cells known as Reed-Steinberg cells. The presence of these cells is diagnostic of Hodgkins disease, but we don't yet know from what type of lymphoid cells they come. Hodgkins disease slowly spreads to adjacent lymph nodes, and rarely metastasizes to distant sites. Most types of Hodgkins disease are also very responsive to chemotherapy and radiation therapy. Tremendous progress has been made in the treatment of this disease such that it is now though to be curable in many cases.

The term "Non-Hodgkins lymphoma" (NHL) represents a broad category of cancers that arise from lymphoid tissues. (Basically, they are lymphoid cancers that don't contain Reed-Steinberg cells.) In contrast to Hodgkins Lymphoma, the prognosis and classification of the various NHLs is a very complex and controversial subject. (It relies on morphological, cytological, immunological, and genetic markers.) In general, treatment of these lymphomas does not enjoy the remarkable success that is often true for Hodgkins lymphoma.