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.
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.
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.
Lymphoma and myeloma share several symptoms, risk factors, and treatments.
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:
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.
NHL and myeloma share several risk factors apart from age. Other overlapping risk factors include:
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:
Read more about CAR T-cell therapy for multiple 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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