Learn more about Hodgkin's Lymphoma

The lymphatic system is a key part of the body’s immune system. Lymph nodes and vessels carry fluid, nutrients, and waste material through the body and bloodstream. Nodes trap bacteria, viruses, and other foreign materials to be destroyed by special white blood cells called lymphocytes.

Sometimes the lymphocytes can grow abnormally and become cancerous. This is known as lymphoma.

There are two types of lymphoma: Hodgkin’s and non-Hodgkin’s, and Hodgkin’s is the rarer of the two.

Find out more about Hodgkin’s lymphoma, including symptoms and treatment.

What Causes Lymphoma?

Lymphoma is one of the three major types of blood cancers, along with leukemia and myeloma. About half of blood cancer cases are lymphoma, according to the American Society of Hematology.

Abnormal growth in lymphocytes can cause lymphoma. There are two major types of lymphocytes:

  • B cells, which make antibodies to help fight off bacteria, viruses, and other foreign substances
  • T cells, which can serve different roles, including destroying abnormal cells or germs, or boosting or slowing other cells in your immune system

Because the lymph system can be found throughout your body, lymphoma can begin almost anywhere.

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What’s the Difference Between Hodgkin’s and Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma?

Hodgkin’s lymphoma is much rarer than non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, accounting for about 12% of cases. There are about 60 different types of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

There are several differences between Hodgkin’s and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma:

  • Hodgkin’s lymphoma usually begins in B lymphocytes. Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma can affect both B and T lymphocytes.
  • Unlike non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, Hodgkin’s lymphoma contains Reed-Sternberg cells, which are larger and may include more than one nucleus.
  • Hodgkin’s lymphoma typically begins in the lymph nodes of the upper body, most commonly in the chest, neck, or under the arms.
  • Hodgkin’s lymphoma more commonly affects people who are young (15-24 years old) or older (60 years old and above). The average age of people with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma is 60 years old.

Risk Factors for Hodgkin’s Lymphoma

While the exact cause of Hodgkin’s lymphoma is unknown in many cases, there are several risk factors:

  • Gender: Males are more at risk than females
  • Age: Younger adults or older adults are more at risk
  • Epstein-Barr virus: Previous infection with the Epstein-Barr virus, which causes mononucleosis, puts people at higher risk
  • Family history
  • Weakened immune system, such as from HIV infection, immuno-suppressing drugs, or autoimmune diseases

Types of Hodgkin’s Lymphoma

There are different types of Hodgkin’s lymphoma, depending on where it forms and how it grows and spreads.

More than 90% of cases are Classic Hodgkin’s lymphoma (cHL), which can be broken down into four sub-types:

  • Nodular sclerosis Hodgkin’s lymphoma (NSCHL)
  • Mixed cellularity Hodgkin’s lymphoma (MCCHL)
  • Lymphocyte-rich Hodgkin’s lymphoma
  • Lymphocyte-depleted Hodgkin’s lymphoma
About 5% of Hodgkin’s lymphoma cases are nodular lymphocyte-predominant Hodgkin’s lymphoma (NLPHL).

Hodgkin’s Lymphoma Symptoms

Symptoms of Hodgkin’s and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma are similar. The most common symptom is one or more swollen lymph nodes. For Hodgkin’s lymphoma, the swollen lymph nodes are typically in the upper body but can be elsewhere.

Other symptoms include:

  • Fever
  • Night sweats
  • Weight loss
  • Fatigue
  • Cough/shortness of breath
  • Loss of appetite
  • Abdominal pain or swelling
  • Itchy skin

How Is Hodgkin’s lymphoma diagnosed?

Because other conditions can cause similar symptoms to Hodgkin’s lymphoma, tests are needed to make a diagnosis. There is no screening yet available for Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

Doctors can take a biopsy of the swollen lymph nodes to test for lymphoma. They may also perform imaging tests like X-rays, MRIs, CT scans, or PET scans.

Treatment for Hodgkin’s Lymphoma

Treatment for Hodgkin’s lymphoma can vary depending on the type and stage of your disease, plus other factors like your overall health. The most common treatments include:

  • Chemotherapy: The use of medicine to kill cancer cells. The drugs can be taken intravenously (IV), orally, or by other means. Chemotherapy can be used alone or in combination with another treatment. It can cause side effects like nausea and hair loss.
  • Radiation therapy: The use of high-energy X-rays to kill cancer cells. The X-rays can be delivered from outside your body (external) or inside (internal).

Surgery is not a common treatment for Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Other treatments may be considered. Those include stem cell transplants and immunotherapy (treatments to boost the immune system).

Hodgkin’s Lymphoma Prognosis

If found early, Hodgkin’s lymphoma is a highly treatable and curable form of cancer.

The five-year survival rate for Hodgkin’s lymphoma is about 87%, according to the American Cancer Society. Survival rates are highest at the earliest stages of disease.

For more information about lymphoma care at UPMC, call the Mario Lemieux Center for Blood Cancers at UPMC Hillman Cancer Center at 412-864-6600.


American Cancer Society, What Is Hodgkin Lymphoma? Link

American Cancer Society, Hodgkin Lymphoma, Early Detection, Diagnosis, and Staging. Link

American Cancer Society, Survival Rates for Hodgkin Lymphoma. Link

American Cancer Society, Treating Hodgkin Lymphoma. Link

American Society of Hematologists, Lymphoma. Link

Health Union, LLC, BloodCancer.com, What's the Difference Between Hodgkin and Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma? Link

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