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What Is Lymphoma? 

Lymphoma is a cancer that starts in a type of white blood cells called lymphocytes, which are part of the body’s immune system. There are nearly 85 different types of lymphomas. Broadly, they are divided into Hodgkin and non-Hodgkin lymphoma. Non-Hodgkin lymphomas are further divided into B-cell, T-cell, and NK-cell lymphomas. These lymphomas can either be aggressive or non-aggressive (indolent) lymphomas. 

Lymphoma Prognosis and Survival Rates 

Lymphoma prognosis primarily depends upon the subtype at diagnosis. Non-Hodgkin lymphoma is one of the most common cancers in the U.S., making up around 4% of all cancers. Aggressive lymphomas typically need intensive therapy and have a good chance of cure. Indolent lymphomas (lymphomas that grow and spread slowly), on the other hand, are chronic treatable diseases. 

Hodgkin lymphoma (formerly called Hodgkin's disease) is much more rare, accounting for around 0.5% of all cancers in the United States. It typically presents in a bimodal pattern with incidence seen in teens ages 15 to 19 or in those older than 65. Hodgkin lymphoma is a highly curable lymphoma with current therapies.

Why Come to CU Cancer Center for Lymphoma

As the only National Cancer Institute-Designated Comprehensive Cancer Center in Colorado and one of only four in the Rocky Mountain region, the University of Colorado Cancer Center has doctors who provide cutting-edge, patient-centered lymphoma care, and researchers focused on diagnostic and treatment innovations. 

There are numerous lymphoma clinical trials being conducted by CU Cancer Center members at any time. These trials offer patients alternatives to traditional lymphoma treatment and can result in remission or increased life spans.  

→ Learn more about the lymphoma program at CU Cancer Center

Our clinical partnership with UCHealth has produced survival rates higher than the state average for all stages of Hodgkin lymphoma and non-Hodgkin lymphoma.

Hodgkin Lymphoma Cancer Graph

Number of Patients Diagnosed – UCHealth 155 – State of Colorado 140
Number of Patients Surviving – UCHealth 604 – State of Colorado 532
*n<30, 5 Year Survival – (Date of diagnosis 1/1/2010–12/31/2014)

Non Hodgkin Lymphoma Cancer Graph

Number of Patients Diagnosed – UCHealth 690 – State of Colorado 3,350
Number of Patients Surviving – UCHealth 496 – State of Colorado 2,231
*n<30, 5 Year Survival – (Date of diagnosis 1/1/2010–12/31/2014)

Hodgkin lymphoma

There are two primary types of Hodgkin lymphoma.

Classic Hodgkin lymphoma (cHL) accounts for around 90% of Hodgkin lymphoma cases. The cancer cells in cHL are known as Reed-Sternberg cells, an abnormal type of B lymphocyte. 

Classic Hodgkin lymphoma has four subtypes:

  • Nodular sclerosis Hodgkin lymphoma (NSCHL) is the most common type of Hodgkin disease. It typically begins in lymph nodes in the neck or chest.
  • Mixed cellularity Hodgkin lymphoma (MCCHL) is the second most common type of Hodgkin lymphoma and is found most often in people with HIV infection. It can begin in any lymph node, but it occurs most often in the upper half of the body.
  • Lymphocyte-rich Hodgkin lymphoma is a rare subtype that typically occurs in the upper half of the body. 
  • Lymphocyte-depleted Hodgkin lymphoma is a rare form of cancer found primarily in older people and those with HIV infection. It is seen most often in lymph nodes in the abdomen, liver, spleen, and bone marrow. 

Nodular lymphocyte-predominant Hodgkin lymphoma (NLPHL) makes up around 5% of cases. The cancer cells in NLPHL, called popcorn cells (because they look like popcorn), are variants of Reed-Sternberg cells. NLPHL typically begins in lymph nodes in the neck and under the arm. It is more common in men than in women. 

Non-Hodgkin lymphoma

Non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL) is largely categorized into two types, named for the type of white blood cell in which the cancer forms: B-cell lymphoma and T-cell lymphoma.

B-cell lymphoma

Around 85% of the NHL diagnosed in the United States are B-cell lymphomas — lymphomas that affect B lymphocytes. The most common types of B-cell lymphomas include: 

Diffuse large B-cell lymphoma is the most common type of NHL. It accounts for around one out of every three lymphomas. It earned this name because the lymphoma cells appear relatively large under a microscope. 

→ New hope for patients with relapsed large B-cell lymphoma

Follicular lymphoma typically is a slow-growing (indolent) lymphoma, though some follicular lymphomas can grow quickly. Follicular lymphoma tends to occur in multiple lymph node sites in the body, as well as the bone marrow. 

Chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) and small lymphocytic lymphoma (SLL) are closely related diseases that involve the same type of small lymphocyte. The biggest difference between the two has to do with where the cancer cells are found — in CLL, most are in the blood and bone marrow; and in SLL, cancer cells are found primarily in the spleen and lymph nodes.

Mantle cell lymphoma tends to be widespread in the bone marrow, lymph nodes, and often the spleen. Mantle cell lymphoma is more common in men than in women, and it most often occurs in people 60 and older. 

Marginal zone lymphomas account for around 5% to 10% of all lymphomas. They tend to be slow-growing (indolent). The three primary types of marginal zone lymphomas are:

  • Extranodal marginal zone B-cell lymphoma, also known as mucosa-associated lymphoid tissue (MALT) lymphoma: The most common type of marginal zone lymphoma, this cancer starts in locations other than the lymph nodes, including the stomach, lung, skin, salivary glands, thyroid, or tissues around the eye.
  • Nodal marginal zone B-cell lymphoma: This rare disease tends to start and stay in the lymph nodes, although cancer cells are sometimes found in the bone marrow. 
  • Splenic marginal zone B-cell lymphoma: This rare lymphoma is most often found in the spleen, blood, and bone marrow.

Burkitt lymphoma is a fast-growing lymphoma named for the doctor who first described the disease in children and young adults in Africa. Different varieties of Burkitt lymphoma are seen in different parts of the world: 

  • The endemic, or African variety of Burkitt lymphoma typically begins as a tumor of the jaw or other facial bones. Most cases of endemic Burkitt lymphoma are linked to infection with the Epstein-Barr virus. This disease is rare in the United States.
  • Nonendemic, or sporadic Burkitt lymphoma is the variety seen more often in the U.S. The lymphoma most often begins in the abdomen, where it forms a large tumor. Nonendemic Burkitt lymphoma also can begin in the testicles, ovaries, or other organs and can spread to the brain and spinal fluid. 
  • Immunodeficiency-associated Burkitt lymphoma is associated with immune system problems such as HIV or AIDS or people who have had an organ transplant. 

Lymphoplasmacytic lymphoma is a slow-growing lymphoma that accounts for just 1% to 2% of lymphomas. It is characterized by small lymphoma cells that are found primarily in the lymph nodes, spleen, and bone marrow. 

Hairy cell leukemia is a rare leukemia that is sometimes considered to be a type of lymphoma. The cancerous cells are small B lymphocytes with protruding projections that give them a “hairy” appearance. They are typically found in the bone marrow, spleen, and blood. 

Primary central nervous system lymphoma primarily involves the brain or spinal cord, though it is sometimes seen in tissues around the spinal cord. 

Primary intraocular lymphoma, or lymphoma of the eye, is a rare lymphoma that begins in the eyeball. It is often seen along with primary central nervous system lymphoma. It is the second most common eye cancer in adults, after ocular melanoma. 

T-cell lymphomas

T-cell lymphomas make up less than 15% of non-Hodgkin lymphomas in the U.S. The most common T-cell lymphomas are:

Peripheral T-cell lymphomas are rare lymphomas that develop from more mature T cells. 

Angioimmunoblastic T-cell lymphoma involves the lymph nodes and bone marrow, as well as the spleen or liver.

Extranodal natural killer/T-cell lymphoma, nasal type is a rare lymphoma that typically affects the upper airway passages, such as the nose and upper throat. It also can affect the skin, digestive tract, and other organs.  

Enteropathy-associated intestinal T-cell lymphoma (EATL) is a lymphoma that occurs in the lining of the intestine — most often the small intestine, but sometimes the colon.  

Anaplastic large cell lymphoma (ALCL) is more common in young people, including children, but it can also affect older adults. ALCL can affect the skin, lymph nodes, and other organs.

Adult T-cell leukemia/lymphoma is caused by infection with the HTLV-1 virus. It is more common in Japan, Africa, and the Caribbean. It affects the bone marrow, lymph nodes, liver, spleen, skin, and other organs.  

Lymphoma of the skin

Skin lymphomas (also known as cutaneous lymphomas) are lymphomas that develop in the skin and do not affect any other areas of the body at the time they are diagnosed. In most cases, they are slow-growing and do not affect life expectancy. Skin lymphoma is not considered a type of skin cancer (where the cancer develops from skin cells).

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Information reviewed by Manali Kamdar, MD, in May 2022.