Leukemia and Lymphoma

Both leukemia and lymphoma are considered blood-related cancers, or hematologic cancers, that affect the immune system. Leukemia begins in the bone marrow with the overproduction of abnormal white blood cells; lymphoma begins in the lymphatic system with abnormal lymphocytes, which are a type of white blood cell.

Normal white blood cells are necessary to help your body fight infection. Leukemia and lymphoma cells, however, can eventually prevent the normal white blood cells from doing their job, causing infections and anemia. Leukemia cells travel from the bone marrow and lymph nodes into the blood, invading other areas of the body.

Leukemia and lymphoma differ among children and adults. This resource will primarily focus on blood-related cancers in adults, though you can review our other resources on childhood cancers.

Types of Leukemia and Lymphoma

Leukemia and lymphoma are fairly broad categories that describe several sub-types of diseases. The primary types of lymphoma include:

  • Hodgkin lymphoma – also called Hodgkin disease, this cancer begins in the large B lymphocytes, or B cells, of the lymph nodes; these cancer cells are called Reed-Sternberg cells. It affects both children and adults similarly.
  • Non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL) – more common than Hodgkin lymphoma, non-Hodgkin is the fifth most common cause of cancer-related deaths in the United States; it differs from Hodgkin in the specific type of lymphocyte that is affected – Reed-Sternberg cells are not present in NHL.
  • Non-Hodgkin lymphoma in children – combined with leukemia, this is the third most common cancer in children.
  • Lymphoma of the skin – a type of non-Hodgkin lymphoma that starts in the skin, primarily categorized as T-cell and B-cell lymphomas.
  • Waldenstrom macroglobulinemia – a type of non-Hodgkin lymphoma that produces macroglobulin, an abnormal protein

Leukemia is generally categorized as either acute or chronic. Acute leukemia involves immature mutated cells and tends to develop and spread fairly quickly. Chronic leukemia involves mutated cells that are fully grown and may develop slowly over many years. The different types of leukemia include:

  • Acute lymphocytic leukemia in adults (ALL) – begins with lymphocytes in the bone marrow and spreads quickly; lymphomas, however, start in the lymph nodes and often spread to the bone marrow. ALL is primarily found in children, but can affect adults.
  • Acute myeloid leukemia (AML) – begins in the myeloid line of blood cells in the bone marrow; the cells go through genetic changes and freeze in the immature phase; AML primarily affects adults.
  • Chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) – like ALL, CLL beings in the lymphocytes of the bone marrow; unlike ALL, CLL develops slowly over time.
  • Chronic myeloid leukemia (CML) – like AML, CML beings in the myeloid blood cells; unlike AML, CML develops slowly over time.
  • Leukemia in children – most forms of leukemia in children are either ALL or AML; ALL accounts for about 3 out of every 4 cases of childhood leukemia.

Leukemia and Lymphoma Risk Factors

The American Cancer Society estimates that approximately 69,740 new cases of non-Hodgkin lymphoma, 9,290 new cases of Hodgkin lymphoma, and 48,610 new cases of acute myeloid leukemia (AML) are diagnosed in the United States annually.

Risk factors include:

Non-Hodgkin lymphoma Hodgkin lymphoma Acute myeloid leukemia
  • Being over the age of 60
  • Being white
  • Having an autoimmune disease
  • Exposure to certain chemicals or radiation
  • Being obese
  • Being male
  • Being between the ages of 15 and 40
  • Having had Epstein-Barr virus in the past
  • Having HIV (human immunodeficiency virus)
  • Having a family history of Hodgkin lymphoma
  • Being male
  • Smoking
  • Exposure to certain chemicals or radiation
  • Having certain blood disorders or genetic syndromes
  • Having a family history of AML

Signs & Symptoms of Leukemia and Lymphoma

Non-Hodgkin lymphoma Hodgkin lymphoma Acute myeloid leukemia
  • Enlarged lymph nodes
  • Swollen abdomen
  • Shortness of breath
  • Extreme tiredness
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Lumps under the skin
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Chest pain
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Fever or night sweats
  • Fatigue or weakness
  • Chronic headaches
  • Bleeding or clotting problems
  • Bone or joint pain
  • Enlarged lymph nodes

Leukemia and Lymphoma Diagnosis & Treatment

Blood tests and bone marrow tests are the primary ways that your doctor will make an initial lymphoma or leukemia diagnosis if you exhibit a combination of the above symptoms. These may include:

  • B-cell leukemia/lymphoma panel
  • Bone marrow exam (aspiration and biopsy)
  • Immunoglobulin testing

Treatment for leukemia or lymphoma will likely involve some combination of surgery such as lymph node dissection, chemotherapy, and radiation therapy. 

Leukemia and Lymphoma Education, Screenings & Treatment at BayCare

BayCare is proud to offer a variety of cancer services throughout Tampa, Clearwater, St. Petersburg and all of Tampa Bay. Call (855) 314-8346 for a physician referral or find a doctor near you.