Leukemia, Lymphoma, Myeloma - What's the Difference?

Leukemia, Lymphoma, Myeloma: What's the Difference?

Leukemia, lymphoma, and myeloma are each types of cancer that start in the blood cells. The cancer then spreads throughout the body by means of the bloodstream or lymphatic system.1-3

Doctors look at a few factors to distinguish one type of blood cancer from another:4

  • The type of cell that has become cancerous
  • Where in the body cancer is found
  • How fast the cancer is growing

Here is a closer look at leukemia, lymphoma, and myeloma.

What is leukemia?

Leukemia begins inside the bone marrow, the soft spongy tissue found in our bones. Blood cells are made in the bone marrow during a complex process called hematopoiesis. When a blood cell in the bone marrow turns cancerous, it can crowd out other cells. It then spreads to the rest of the body through the bloodstream.5,6

Major types of leukemia

There are four major subtypes of leukemia:5

Specific diagnosis depends on a couple of factors:5

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  • How quickly the cancer grows – Acute forms of leukemia advance rapidly, while chronic leukemia may progress more slowly.
  • In which blood cell type the cancer begins – Acute leukemia tends to impact young white blood cells. Chronic forms of the disease affect cells that are somewhat more mature. Meanwhile, lymphocytic leukemia affects white blood cells called lymphocytes, while myeloid leukemia affects cells that eventually become any other type of blood cell.

What is lymphoma?

Lymphoma is a form of cancer that starts in the lymphatic system. This system is part of the immune system and is made up of a network of tissues, vessels, and organs.7

Immune cells called lymphocytes are a major part of the lymphatic system. B-cells and T-cells are the main lymphocytes. Each has a specific function in protecting our bodies from disease.7

Lymphoma begins in lymph tissues, which can be found in the:7

  • Lymph nodes
  • Thymus
  • Tonsils
  • Adenoids
  • Spleen
  • Lymphatic vessels
  • Parts of the digestive system
  • Other areas of the body

If a doctor has diagnosed you with lymphoma, your symptoms will depend on where your tumor began.7

Major types of lymphoma

There are two major subtypes of lymphoma:7

Diagnosis depends on the type of cell where the cancer started, plus other tumor characteristics. Doctors identify Hodgkin lymphoma by the presence of Reed-Sternberg cells, named for the researchers who discovered them. Non-Hodgkin lymphoma does not have these cells.8

What is myeloma?

Myeloma is a blood cancer that begins in immune cells called plasma cells. These cells are typically located in the bone marrow. Plasma cells are formed from B-cells when they are called on to fight an infection. When plasma cells become cancerous, they multiply and begin to crowd out healthy cells and produce abnormal antibodies called M proteins.9,10

Major types of myelomaThere are several forms of myeloma, including:10Multiple myeloma – This is when the illness affects several areas of your body when you are first diagnosed.Plasmacytoma – This is a buildup of cancerous plasma cells that tends to happen in the bones, skin, muscle, or lung.Diagnosis depends on how spread out the cancer has become and where it started. The most common form of myeloma is multiple myeloma.9,10

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