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Lymphoma vs. Myeloma: 4 Similarities and 4 Differences

Medically reviewed by Danielle Leonardo, M.D.
Written by Emily Wagner, M.S.
Posted on October 10, 2023

If you’ve been studying up on multiple myeloma, you may have noticed that it shares some similarities with lymphoma. Both conditions originate in white blood cells, and they have some overlapping symptoms. However, these blood cancers also have some key differences, particularly regarding prevalence (how common they are), diagnosis, and prognosis (outlook). It’s possible — but very rare — to have both lymphoma and myeloma.

In this article, we’ll discuss four similarities and four differences between lymphoma and myeloma. Learning more about how your blood cancer is related to similar conditions can help you feel more knowledgeable about your own diagnosis.

What Is Lymphoma?

Lymphoma is a blood cancer that affects white blood cells known as lymphocytes, or B cells and T cells. These cells are an important part of your immune system — they help fight infections and keep you from getting sick. Lymphoma occurs when your lymphocytes develop new genetic mutations, or changes. As a result, the cells begin growing and dividing uncontrollably, crowding out your healthy blood cells.

There are two main types — non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL) and Hodgkin lymphoma. Around 90 percent of all lymphomas are NHL, which has more than 70 subtypes. In the United States, NHL will account for an estimated 4.1 percent of all new cancer cases in 2023.

NHL can occur at any age, but it’s more common in older adults. On the other hand, Hodgkin lymphoma is more common between ages 15 and 29.

What Is Myeloma?

Myeloma is a blood cancer that affects plasma cells, a type of B cell. These cells are responsible for making your antibodies immunoglobulins (Igs), immune system proteins that protect you against infection. In myeloma, plasma cells begin growing uncontrollably and crowd out the blood-producing cells in bone marrow.

Myeloma cells also make an abnormal antibody known as monoclonal protein (M protein). The presence of M protein in a blood test helps diagnose myeloma. Each of the four main types of myeloma — typical, nonsecretory, Bence Jones, and IgM myeloma — affects a different type of antibody.

Similarities Between Lymphoma and Myeloma

Lymphoma and myeloma share several symptoms, risk factors, and treatments.

1. Some Symptoms Occur in Both

Lymphoma and myeloma are two types of blood cancer with some overlapping symptoms. Lymphoma and myeloma cells both crowd out healthy cells in the bone marrow, leading to:

  • Anemia or low red blood cell count, which causes fatigue, weakness, dizziness, and shortness of breath
  • Frequent or severe infections
  • Abdominal pain and loss of appetite
  • Weight loss

2. Risk Increases With Age

As we age, our DNA develops new mutations that can accumulate and lead to cancer. In general, cancer affects older individuals, and this is true for both NHL and myeloma.

While some types of NHL are among the more common childhood cancers, more than 50 percent of people are 65 years or older when they receive an NHL diagnosis, according to the American Cancer Society. In the United States, the average age for a myeloma diagnosis is 69 years, with nearly all cases diagnosed in people 50 and older, per a 2021 study in the journal Blood.

Hodgkin lymphoma is most common in younger adults, but your risk of developing it increases again after age 55. Taking into account both childhood and adult cases, the average age of a person with Hodgkin lymphoma is 39 years old.

3. Other Risk Factors Overlap

NHL and myeloma share several risk factors apart from age. Other overlapping risk factors include:

  • Sex — Males are more likely to develop lymphoma and myeloma than females, according to the American Cancer Society.
  • Family history (having a parent or sibling with the condition)
  • Higher body weight
  • Exposure to chemicals like benzene from tobacco smoke or pesticides
  • Radiation exposure from nuclear reactor accidents or previous radiation therapy for treating another type of cancer

4. They Share Some Treatments

Depending on your type and stage of lymphoma or myeloma, you may not need treatment right away. If you have slow-growing cancer, your doctor may recommend monitoring your condition to see if it progresses.

On the other hand, aggressive cancers need immediate treatment. Common options for NHL, Hodgkin lymphoma, and myeloma treatment include:

  • Chemotherapy
  • Bone marrow transplant
  • Immunotherapy
  • Chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) T-cell therapy
  • Targeted therapies

Read more about CAR T-cell therapy for multiple myeloma.

Differences Between Lymphoma and Myeloma

Despite their similarities, these two types of blood cancer begin in different areas, are diagnosed using some different tests, and don’t occur with the same frequency. They also differ in outlook, or a prediction of how the disease will progress and how long someone might live with it.

1. The Cancers Begin in Different Parts of the Body

One key difference between lymphoma and myeloma is the site where the cancer starts growing. Lymphoma typically develops in the lymph nodes, and myeloma develops in your bone marrow.

With lymphoma, a common symptom is swollen lymph nodes, especially in your neck, groin, and armpits. You may also experience “B symptoms” like drenching night sweats, unexplained weight loss, and fever.

Myeloma occurs when too many myeloma cells crowd out bone marrow, resulting in tumors and damaging the bone. Your first multiple myeloma symptom may be bone pain, especially in your arms, legs, chest, spine, or pelvis. Extra M protein made by myeloma cells can also damage your kidneys, leading to leg swelling, shortness of breath, and itchy skin.

2. Lymphoma Is Much More Common Than Myeloma

Another key difference is in how often each condition occurs. According to National Cancer Institute (NCI) statistics for the United States, lymphoma is more common than myeloma, with around 80,550 new cases of NHL and 8,830 new cases of Hodgkin lymphoma expected in 2023. In comparison, the NCI estimates 35,730 new myeloma cases for 2023.

Another major difference is that lymphoma is more common in children than myeloma is. Together, NHL and Hodgkin lymphoma account for about 8 percent of childhood cancer, according to the American Cancer Society, while myeloma is rare.

3. The Conditions’ Outlooks Vary

The prognosis or life expectancy for people living with lymphoma and myeloma also varies. The American Cancer Society discusses outlook using a five-year relative survival rate, which compares people with a type of cancer to the general U.S. population.

For example, the relative five-year survival rate for all stages of diffuse large B-cell lymphoma (DLBCL), a type of NHL, is 65 percent. This means that after their diagnosis, people who have DLBCL are 65 percent as likely as the general population to live five years or more. The five-year relative survival rate for all Hodgkin lymphoma stages is 89 percent, and it’s 58 percent for all myeloma stages.

These statistics help give you an idea of your outlook with lymphoma or myeloma. Many factors play a role in life expectancy with these blood cancers, including your age and overall health, as well as your cancer stage.

Read more about multiple myeloma prognosis.

4. Different Tests Are Used for Diagnosis

Blood cancer diagnosis begins with a physical exam and a discussion with your doctor about your symptoms, family history, and medical history. Based on your symptoms, your doctor may order different tests to diagnose lymphoma or myeloma.

To diagnose lymphoma, your doctor may order several tests, including a lymph node biopsy (removing tissue or fluid to be examined under a microscope), imaging tests such as MRI and CT scans, and blood tests to check your liver and kidney function.

On the other hand, tests for myeloma focus on your blood cell counts, calcium levels, and kidney function. A special test known as serum protein electrophoresis checks a blood sample for abnormal myeloma antibodies. Your doctor may also order a bone scan to look for damage from myeloma.

Talk With Others Who Understand

MyMyelomaTeam is the social network for people with multiple myeloma and their loved ones. On MyMyelomaTeam, more than 21,000 members come together to ask questions, give advice, and share their stories with others who understand life with myeloma.

Do you still have questions about the relationship between myeloma and lymphoma? Share your thoughts in the comments below, or start a conversation by posting on your Activities page.

References
  1. Leukemias, Lymphomas, and Myelomas — UMMC Health Care
  2. Case Report: Simultaneous Occurrence of Multiple Myeloma and Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma Treated by CAR T Therapy — Medicine
  3. Lymphoma — Cleveland Clinic
  4. White Blood Cells — Cleveland Clinic
  5. Cancer Stat Facts: Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma — National Cancer Institute Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results Program
  6. Lymphoma — StatPearls
  7. Key Statistics for Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma — American Cancer Society
  8. Hodgkin Lymphoma — Leukemia & Lymphoma Society
  9. What Is Multiple Myeloma? — American Cancer Society
  10. Types of Myeloma — International Myeloma Foundation
  11. Epidemiology of Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma — Medical Sciences
  12. What Is Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma? — Cancer Research UK
  13. Signs and Symptoms of Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma — American Cancer Society
  14. Signs and Symptoms of Multiple Myeloma — American Cancer Society
  15. Age and Cancer — Cancer Research UK
  16. Diagnosed With Myeloma Before Age 40 — Blood
  17. Key Statistics for Hodgkin Lymphoma — American Cancer Society
  18. Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma Risk Factors — American Cancer Society
  19. Risk Factors for Multiple Myeloma — American Cancer Society
  20. Treatment Options for Multiple Myeloma and Other Plasma Cell Disorders — American Cancer Society
  21. Lymphoma — MedlinePlus
  22. Treating Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma — American Cancer Society
  23. Treating Hodgkin Lymphoma — American Cancer Society
  24. Treating Multiple Myeloma — American Cancer Society
  25. Signs and Symptoms of Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma — American Cancer Society
  26. What Is Myeloma? — Cancer Research UK
  27. Signs and Symptoms of Multiple Myeloma — American Cancer Society
  28. Cancer Stat Facts: Hodgkin Lymphoma — National Cancer Institute Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results Program
  29. Cancer Stat Facts: Myeloma — National Cancer Institute Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results Program
  30. Types of Cancer That Develop in Children — American Cancer Society
  31. Pediatric Multiple Myeloma — Blood
  32. Survival Rates and Factors That Affect Prognosis (Outlook) for Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma — American Cancer Society
  33. Survival Rates for Hodgkin Lymphoma — American Cancer Society
  34. Survival Rates for Multiple Myeloma — American Cancer Society
  35. Blood Cancer — Cleveland Clinic
  36. Tests for Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma — American Cancer Society
  37. Tests To Find Multiple Myeloma — American Cancer Society

Posted on October 10, 2023
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Danielle Leonardo, M.D. is a board-certified specialist in internal medicine and medical oncology from the Philippines and has been practicing medicine since 2014. Learn more about her here.
Emily Wagner, M.S. holds a Master of Science in biomedical sciences with a focus in pharmacology. She is passionate about immunology, cancer biology, and molecular biology. Learn more about her here.

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