Leukemia vs Lymphoma: Understand Major Differences

Written by Hexahealth Care Team, last updated on 5 June 2023
Leukemia vs Lymphoma: Understand Major Differences

When it comes to blood-related illnesses, leukaemia and lymphoma take center stage. These two conditions, leukaemia vs lymphoma, may share a common origin within the body’s cells, but their impact and characteristics differ significantly.

Leukaemia primarily affects the bone marrow and disrupts blood cell production, while lymphoma targets the lymphatic system, compromising the body’s immune response.

Leukaemia and lymphoma are the two most common blood cancers. However, leukaemia is more prevalent than lymphoma, especially in children.

While leukaemia accounts for about 26.7 to 52.3% of all childhood cancers, lymphoma accounts for 4.4 to 23.1%. The following blog explores the key difference between leukaemia and lymphoma to understand their unique challenges. Continue reading to know more. 

What is Leukaemia?

Leukaemia is slow-moving cancer that starts in the bone marrow, the soft tissue found in the centre of the bones. It occurs when there is an uncontrolled production of abnormal white blood cells, also known as leukocytes.

These abnormal cells outnumber healthy blood cells, including platelets, red blood cells, and normal white blood cells, leading to various complications.

Leukaemia can be broadly categorised into four main types based on the specific white blood cells affected and the rate of disease progression. These types are:

  1. Acute Lymphoblastic Leukaemia (ALL): Also known as acute lymphocytic leukaemia, it primarily affects lymphoid cells, a type of white blood cell responsible for immune responses.

    ALL progresses rapidly and is more common in children, although it can also occur in adults.
  2. Acute Myeloid Leukaemia (AML): AML affects myeloid cells, which produce red blood cells, platelets, and certain types of white blood cells.

    It is a rapidly progressing leukaemia commonly occurring in older adults, although it can also affect children.
  3. Chronic Lymphocytic Leukaemia (CLL): CLL affects lymphocytes, white blood cells responsible for immune system function.

    It typically occurs in older adults.CLL is often detected during routine blood tests and may not require immediate treatment in its early stages.
    Why? Because it is slow-progressing cancer that has shown no benefits from early treatment. 
  4. Chronic Myeloid Leukaemia (CML): CML affects myeloid cells and usually progresses slowly. It is characterised by an abnormal Philadelphia chromosome (it forms when chromosome 22 and chromosome 9 break and exchange places).

    This leads to an abnormally small chromosome 22 and a new set of instructions for the cells, leading to the development of CML.
    CML can occur in people of any age but is more commonly diagnosed in middle-aged adults.

Each leukaemia type has further subtypes and variations, making the classification more specific and refined.

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What is Lymphoma?

Lymphoma is a type of cancer originating in the lymphatic system, a network of lymph nodes, lymphatic vessels, and other tissues that play a crucial role in the body’s immune response. 

Lymphoma occurs when there is an abnormal growth of lymphocytes, a white blood cell involved in fighting infections.

These abnormal cells can form tumours in the lymph nodes or other lymphatic tissues, impairing the normal functioning of the immune system.

There are two main categories of lymphoma:

  1. Hodgkin Lymphoma (HL): Hodgkin lymphoma, also known as Hodgkin’s disease, is characterised by the presence of Reed-Sternberg cells, large abnormal cells found within the lymph nodes. 

    HL typically starts in a single lymph node or a group of lymph nodes. If left untreated, the cancer can spread to nearby lymph nodes or other organs. It often affects young adults or people in their early 30s and older.
  2. Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma (NHL): Non-Hodgkin lymphoma refers to a diverse group of lymphomas that do not contain Reed-Sternberg cells.

    It can originate from various types of lymphocytes and has different subtypes with varying characteristics and growth patterns.NHL is more common than Hodgkin lymphoma and can occur at any age, though the risk increases.

Difference Between Leukaemia and Lymphoma

While both leukaemia and lymphoma are blood cancers, they differ in origin, progression, and primarily affected areas within the body.

The following table compares the key differences between leukaemia and lymphoma:

Parameter Leukaemia Lymphoma
Origin Bone Marrow Lymphatic System
Progression Uncontrollable growth of white blood cells in the bone marrow and subsequent release in the bloodstream Forms tumours within the lymph nodes and spreads to other organs in a more predictable manner
Primarily affected areas Bone marrow and blood interfere with the production of normal blood cells Lymphatic system, including lymph nodes, lymphatic vessels, and other lymphoid tissues

Symptoms, Causes, and Risk Factors of Leukaemia vs Lymphoma

Leukaemia and lymphoma, two distinct types of blood-related cancers, share similarities and differences in their symptoms, causes, and risk factors.

Understanding the leukaemia and lymphoma difference is crucial for accurate diagnosis and effective treatment.

Based on Symptoms

The symptoms of leukaemia vs lymphoma vary according to their type. The following table shows the difference between leukaemia and lymphoma based on their symptoms. 

Leukaemia Lymphoma
Chronic Leukaemia:
  1. Bleeding and bruising
  2. Swelling of the liver, spleen, and lymph nodes
  3. Other symptoms, depending on the type

Acute Leukaemia:

  1. Fever
  2. Shortness of breath
  3. Lethargy
  4. Bleeding and bruising
  5. Muscle pain
  6. Bone pain
  7. Swelling of the liver, spleen, and lymph nodes
  8. Anaemia
  9. Heavy bleeding during menstruation
Hodgkin Lymphoma:
  1. Fever
  2. Weight loss
  3. Night sweats
  4. Swollen lymph nodes
  5. Skin rash
  6. Diseases of the diaphragm

Non-Hodgkin lymphoma: 

  1. Swollen lymph nodes
  2. Excessive fatigue
  3. A general feeling of being unwell
  4. Loss of appetite and weight loss
  5. Chest pain
  6. Difficulty breathing
  7. Fever and night sweats
  8. Itchy skin
  9. Swollen, painful abdomen

Based on Causes

Both leukaemia and lymphoma develop from issues related to the white blood cells. Leukaemia and lymphoma occur when there is a change in the DNA of the white blood cells.

The exact cause of this change in this DNA has yet to be fully understood. However, various factors can increase the risk of forming these cancers.

Based on Risk Factors

Leukaemia and lymphoma have some overlapping risk factors, but there are also differences between the two in terms of specific risk factors.

While some factors can increase your risk of developing leukaemia or lymphoma, some people with no risk factors may develop these conditions.

In contrast, others with known risk factors may never develop these cancers. Here are some key distinctions:



  1. Genetic disorders (Down syndrome and Li-Fraumeni syndrome)
  2. Exposure to radiation (radiation therapy or nuclear accidents)
  3. Chemical exposure (like benzene)
  4. Family history
  1. Immune system deficiencies (from conditions like HIV/AIDS or organ transplantation)
  2. Viral infections (Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) or cytomegalovirus)
  3. Autoimmune diseases (rheumatoid arthritis or Sjogren’s syndrome)
  4. Age (more common in older adults)

Diagnosis, Treatment, and Complications of Leukaemia vs Lymphoma

Diagnosing, treating, and managing complications in leukaemia and lymphoma requires comprehensive approaches.

While there are some similarities between the diagnosis and treatment of the conditions, there are also some key differences. 

Early detection, accurate diagnosis, and personalised treatment plans are crucial in improving outcomes and minimising complications for patients with leukaemia or lymphoma. 

Based in Diagnosis

The diagnostic process for leukaemia and lymphoma starts with the doctor asking you more about your symptoms and medical history. The specific tests for diagnosing these cancers include:


  1. Blood Tests: Blood tests are essential in diagnosing leukaemia. They help evaluate the number and appearance of different blood cells, including white, red, and platelets.

    Abnormalities in these cell counts and characteristics can indicate the presence of leukaemia.
  2. Bone Marrow Aspiration and Biopsy: They are typically performed to examine the bone marrow for the presence of abnormal cells.

    A small sample of bone marrow and a tiny piece of bone is taken from the hipbone or another site and examined under a microscope.


  1. Biopsy: The primary diagnostic tool for lymphoma is a lymph node biopsy.

    A small portion of an enlarged lymph node or other affected tissue is surgically removed and examined under a microscope to detect abnormal lymphocytes.
  2. Imaging Studies: Imaging tests, such as CT scans, PET scans, or MRI scans, are often performed to assess the extent of lymphoma and locate affected lymph nodes or organs.
  3. Bone Marrow Biopsy: In some cases of lymphoma, a bone marrow biopsy may be used to assess the involvement of the bone marrow.

Based on Treatment

The choice of treatment will depend on factors such as the type of leukaemia, its stage or progression, the overall health of the patient, and individual considerations.

The treatment will be prepared to address the specific characteristics of leukaemia and optimise the chances of achieving remission or managing the disease effectively. Leukaemia and lymphoma treatment include: 

  1. Chemotherapy: Chemotherapy is a common option for treating leukaemia. It involves using powerful drugs to destroy blood and bone marrow cancer cells.
  2. Radiation Therapy: Radiation therapy is occasionally used in specific situations, such as for certain types of leukaemia that have spread to the brain or for palliative care.
  3. Stem Cell Transplant: A doctor may suggest a stem cell transplant for certain cases of leukaemia.

    This procedure involves replacing damaged bone marrow with healthy stem cells to help restore normal blood cell production.
  4. Targeted Therapy: Certain types of lymphoma may respond well to targeted therapy drugs that specifically target cancer cells or their supporting structures.
  5. Immunotherapy: Some forms of lymphoma, such as Hodgkin lymphoma and certain subtypes of non-Hodgkin lymphoma, can be treated with immunotherapy.

    This approach stimulates the immune system to target and destroy cancer cells.

Based on Complications

Leukaemia and lymphoma can both lead to various complications. There are some differences in the specific complications associated with each disease:


  1. Infections: leukaemia weakens the immune system, making individuals more susceptible to infections.
    Bacterial, viral, and fungal infections can occur and may be more severe and frequent in people with leukaemia.
  2. Anaemia and Bleeding: leukaemia can cause a decrease in healthy red blood cells and platelets, leading to anaemia and an increased risk of bleeding and bruising.

  3. Organ Infiltration: In advanced stages of leukaemia, cancer cells can infiltrate various organs, including the liver, spleen, and lymph nodes, potentially causing organ enlargement and impairing their normal functions.

  4. Neurological Complications: In some cases, leukaemia cells may invade the central nervous system, leading to neurological complications such as headaches, seizures, or cognitive changes.


  1. Compression of Organs: Lymphoma tumours can compress surrounding structures, leading to complications such as difficulty breathing if the tumour affects the lungs or impaired kidney function if the tumour affects the urinary tract.
  2. Immune System Dysfunction: Lymphoma can weaken the immune system.

    This makes individuals more susceptible to infections and increases the risk of complications related to impaired immune function.
  3. Secondary Cancers: Individuals with lymphoma may have an increased risk of developing secondary cancers, such as lung or skin cancer, due to various factors, including previous treatments.

Survival Rates of Leukaemia vs Lymphoma

The survival rates for leukaemia and lymphoma can vary depending on multiple factors, such as the specific type, stage, age of the patient, overall health, and treatment received. However, survival rates are general estimates and may not reflect individual cases.

  1. The general 5-year survival rate for someone diagnosed with leukaemia is 66.7%. However, this may vary between the different types. 
    1. The 5-year survival rate for children with acute lymphoblastic leukaemia has increased to about 90%. 
    2. The 5-year survival rate for children with acute myeloid leukaemia is between 65% to 70%. 
  2. The general 5-year survival rate for non-Hodgkin lymphoma is 74.3%, while for Hodgkin lymphoma, it is 88.9%. 

Preventive Measures for Leukaemia and Lymphoma?

Preventing leukaemia and lymphoma is challenging because the exact causes are often unknown. However, there are certain measures individuals can take to reduce their risk or detect these conditions early:  

  1. Maintain a Healthy Lifestyle: Adopting a healthy lifestyle can contribute to overall well-being and potentially lower the risk of developing cancer.

    This includes regular exercise, a balanced diet rich in fruits and vegetables, limited alcohol consumption, avoidance of tobacco products, and maintaining a healthy weight.
  2. Protect against Infections: Certain viral infections, such as Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) and human T-cell lymphotropic virus (HTLV-1), have been linked to an increased risk of lymphoma.

    Taking precautions to minimise exposure to these viruses, like practising good hygiene and avoiding close contact with infected individuals, may help reduce the risk.
  3. Minimise Exposure to Environmental Carcinogens: Some occupational and environmental exposures have been associated with an increased risk of developing leukaemia or lymphoma.

    Minimise exposure to potential carcinogens such as benzene, pesticides, certain chemicals, and radiation whenever possible.
  4. Seek Regular Medical Check-Ups: Regular check-ups with a healthcare professional can aid in the early detection of any potential signs or symptoms.

    Timely diagnosis allows for prompt intervention and treatment, which can greatly influence outcomes.

When to Consult a Doctor?

It is important to consult a healthcare provider if you experience any persistent or concerning symptoms that could be associated with leukaemia or lymphoma. Symptoms associated with leukaemia may include:

  1. Unexplained fatigue
  2. Easy bruising or bleeding
  3. Unexplained weight loss
  4. Enlarged lymph nodes or spleen, etc.

Symptoms associated with lymphoma may include: 

  1. Painless swollen lymph nodes
  2. Persistent fever or fatigue
  3. Unexplained weight loss, etc. 

You must also consult a healthcare provider if there is a known risk factor or family history of leukaemia or lymphoma. They can provide appropriate guidance and recommend necessary screenings or preventive measures based on your situation.


Leukaemia vs lymphoma, two distinct types of blood cancers, exhibit differences in origin, affected cells, impact on the bone marrow, and treatment approaches.

Leukaemia arises in the bone marrow, affecting white blood cells, while lymphoma originates in the lymphatic system, impacting lymphocytes. Understanding these differences is crucial for accurate diagnosis and tailored treatment plans.

At HexaHealth, we strive to provide comprehensive support for patients with leukaemia or lymphoma. Our dedicated team of healthcare professionals offers personalised care, cutting-edge treatments, and ongoing monitoring to maximise outcomes.

We aim to empower patients throughout their cancer journey with a patient-centred approach. Trust HexaHealth to guide you toward a brighter, healthier future. Contact us TODAY to learn about the key difference between leukaemia and lymphoma. 

Suggested Reads 

  1. Bone Marrow Cancer Symptoms
  2. Bone Marrow Transplant

Frequently Asked Questions

Differentiate between leukaemia and lymphoma?

The terms leukaemia vs lymphoma refer to types of blood cancer but differ.

Leukaemia starts in the bone marrow and affects the production of white blood cells. On the other hand, lymphoma is cancer that originates in the lymphatic system and forms tumours in lymph nodes or other lymphoid tissues.

What is the difference between leukaemia and lymphoma in terms of their origin?

The difference between leukaemia and lymphoma is that leukaemia originates in the bone marrow, where abnormal white blood cells are overproduced and released into the bloodstream.

Lymphoma, on the other hand, originates in the lymphatic system, forming tumors in lymph nodes or other lymphoid tissues.

What are the main characteristics of leukaemia?

The main characteristics of leukaemia include the uncontrolled production of abnormal white blood cells in the bone marrow, disrupting the normal balance of blood cell production.

This decreases healthy white blood cells, red blood cells, and platelets, leading to anemia, increased infection risk, and bleeding or bruising tendencies.

What are the main characteristics of lymphoma?

The main characteristics of lymphoma include the abnormal growth of lymphocytes, a white blood cell, leading to the formation of tumors in lymph nodes or other lymphoid tissues.

Lymphoma can cause swollen lymph nodes, fever, night sweats, unexplained weight loss, fatigue, and itching.

Are there any differences in the types of cells affected by leukaemia and lymphoma?

Yes, there are differences in the types of cells affected by leukaemia and lymphoma. leukaemia primarily affects white blood cells, specifically different subtypes of leukocytes.

On the other hand, lymphoma specifically involves abnormal growth of lymphocytes, a specific type of white blood cell.

Do leukaemia and lymphoma differ regarding their impact on the bone marrow?

Yes, leukaemia and lymphoma differ in their impact on the bone marrow. leukaemia disrupts the normal production of blood cells in the bone marrow, leading to an overabundance of abnormal white blood cells.

In contrast, lymphoma typically does not directly affect the bone marrow, although it can indirectly impact its function if it spreads to the bone marrow.

What are the typical symptoms and signs of leukaemia?

The typical symptoms and signs of leukaemia include:

  1. fatigue
  2. weakness
  3. pale skin
  4. frequent infections
  5. unexplained weight loss
  6. easy bruising or bleeding
  7. swollen lymph nodes
  8. bone or joint pain
  9. night sweats
  10. a sense of being full or discomfort in the abdomen due to an enlarged spleen.

What are the typical symptoms and signs of lymphoma?

The typical symptoms and signs of lymphoma include swollen lymph nodes, often painless, particularly in the neck, armpits, or groin. Other symptoms may include:

  1. Fever
  2. Night sweats
  3. Unexplained weight loss
  4. Fatigue
  5. Itching
  6. abdominal pain
  7. Swelling and chest pain
  8. Coughing.

Are there any differences in the diagnostic methods used for leukaemia and lymphoma?

There is usually no difference between leukaemia and lymphoma based on diagnostic methods. Both may involve blood tests, imaging studies, and tissue biopsies. While diagnosis for leukaemia involves a bone marrow biopsy, lymphoma involves the biopsy of the affected tissue. 

How are leukaemia and lymphoma classified?

Leukaemia and lymphoma are classified based on various factors, including the specific type of white blood cell affected, the rate of disease progression, genetic abnormalities, and other characteristics.

Subtypes and variations within each category are identified through diagnostic tests such as blood tests, bone marrow biopsy, and genetic analysis.

Are there any differences in the treatment approaches for leukaemia and lymphoma?

Yes, there are differences in the treatment approaches for leukaemia and lymphoma. While both may involve chemotherapy, radiation therapy, and targeted therapy, leukaemia treatment may also involve stem cell transplant.

The specific type, subtype, stage, and individual factors significantly determine the treatment plan.

How do the prognosis and survival rates differ between leukaemia and lymphoma?

Prognosis and survival rates vary depending on the specific type, subtype, stage, and individual characteristics. Generally, some types of leukaemia, such as acute leukaemias, may have a more aggressive course.

In contrast, certain lymphomas, such as Hodgkin lymphoma, generally have higher overall survival rates than some types of leukaemia. However, individual cases and responses to treatment can greatly impact prognosis.

Are there any risk factors that are specific to leukaemia or lymphoma?

While some common risk factors exist, certain factors are specific to each disease. For leukaemia, specific risk factors include exposure to certain chemicals or radiation, genetic disorders such as Down syndrome, and certain inherited conditions.

Lymphoma has specific risk factors such as immune system deficiencies, certain viral infections, and autoimmune diseases.

Can leukaemia or lymphoma be inherited?

Genetic disorders and chromosomal abnormalities can increase the risk of developing leukaemia or lymphoma. But these cancers are typically not directly inherited in the same way as genetic traits.

However, a family history of these diseases may indicate a higher risk due to shared genetic or environmental factors.

Are there any preventive measures for reducing the risk of leukaemia or lymphoma?

Currently, no known preventive measures exist to completely eliminate the risk of developing leukaemia or lymphoma.

However, adopting a healthy lifestyle, including avoiding exposure to known carcinogens, maintaining a balanced diet, exercising regularly, and practicing good hygiene to reduce the risk of certain infections, may contribute to overall well-being and lower the risk of developing these cancers.

Can leukaemia or lymphoma occur simultaneously in the same individual?

While it is rare, it is possible for an individual to develop both leukaemia and lymphoma simultaneously. It is also possible that leukaemia may develop after lymphoma or vice versa. 

Are there any differences in the long-term complications or side effects associated with the treatments for leukaemia and lymphoma?

Yes, there can be differences in the long-term complications and side effects associated with the treatments for leukaemia and lymphoma. Chemotherapy, radiation therapy, and other treatments can cause various effects such as:

  1. Fatigue
  2. Infertility
  3. Secondary cancers
  4. Organ damage
  5. Increased risk of infections.

However, the specific risks and severity may differ based on the treatment protocols and individual factors.

How does the incidence or prevalence of leukaemia compare to lymphoma?

In general, leukaemia's incidence and prevalence are higher than lymphoma's. leukaemia accounts for a larger proportion of all adult and childhood cancers in India, whereas lymphoma is less prevalent than leukaemia.

Are there any differences in the age groups predominantly affected by leukaemia and lymphoma?

Yes, there are differences in the age groups predominantly affected by leukaemia and lymphoma. Leukaemia can occur at any age, but certain types, such as acute lymphoblastic leukaemia (ALL), are more common in children.

Lymphoma, especially non-Hodgkin lymphoma, has a higher incidence in older adults, although it can also affect children and young adults.

Can leukaemia or lymphoma recur or relapse after treatment, and are there any differences in the recurrence rates between the two?

Yes, both leukaemia and lymphoma can recur or relapse after treatment. The lymphoma leukaemia difference in recurrence rate can vary depending on factors like the type, stage, and response to treatment.

Generally, lymphoma has a higher relapse rate than leukaemia, but specific rates can differ based on the subtype and individual circumstances.


All the articles on HexaHealth are supported by verified medically-recognized sources such as; peer-reviewed academic research papers, research institutions, and medical journals. Our medical reviewers also check references of the articles to prioritize accuracy and relevance. Refer to our detailed editorial policy for more information.

  1. Leukemia vs. Lymphoma: Origins, Types, and Treatments [Internet]. Healthline. 2016. link
  2. Leukemia vs lymphoma: Similarities and differences [Internet]. www.medicalnewstoday.com. link
  3. Are Leukemia and Lymphoma the Same Thing? [Internet]. Health Essentials from Cleveland Clinic. 2019.link
  4. Acute myeloid lukemia complications: Physical and mental [Internet]. www.medicalnewstoday.com. 2021.link
  5. Australia H. Non-Hodgkin lymphoma (B cell and T cell lymphoma) [Internet]. www.healthdirect.gov.au. 2020.link
  6. Asthana S, Labani S, Mehrana S, Bakhshi S. Incidence of childhood leukemia and lymphoma in India. Pediatric Hematology Oncology Journal. 2018 Dec;3(4):115–20.link

Updated on : 5 June 2023


About Authors

HexaHealth Care Team

HexaHealth Care Team brings you medical content covering many important conditions, procedures falling under different medical specialities. The content published is thoroughly reviewed by our panel of qualified doctors for its accuracy and relevance.

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