Cancers FAQ

What is the Difference Between Lymphoma and Leukemia?

What is the Difference Between Lymphoma and Leukemia?

A leading oncologist offers clarity on leukemia vs. lymphoma

Dr. Matasar Explains the difference between leukemia and lymphoma

In this discussion, we delve into the distinction between two types of blood cancer: leukemia and lymphoma. Confusion often arises because both are blood cancers. Leukemia typically occurs in the bone marrow, while lymphoma originates in the lymphatic system, primarily impacting lymph nodes and tissue.

Dr. Matthew Matasar, Chief of the Division of Blood Disorders at Rutgers Cancer Institute and an expert hematologist-oncologist shares the differences between leukemia and lymphoma – in human terms.

At The Patient Story, we aim to provide straightforward answers for those looking to better understand blood cancers.

This interview has been edited for clarity. This is not medical advice. Please consult with your healthcare provider for treatment decisions.

What is the Difference Between Lymphoma and Leukemia?

Dr. Matasar: This is a point of confusion because these terms get bandied around a lot. Lymphomas are cancers of lymphocytes; that is a biological term. Leukemia means cancer in the blood. It’s a geographical term. It doesn’t tell you anything about what type of cancer it is.

You can have breast cancer that is in the leukemic phase, meaning it’s a breast cancer, but it’s spread into the bloodstream. You can have prostate cancer, in the leukemic phase. You can have lymphomas that are leukemic lymphomas. Chronic lymphocytic leukemia is a lymphoma that is leukemic. It’s a lymphoma in the bloodstream.

Other types of leukemia are not from lymphocytes but from other types of immune cells. The most common of those is acute myelogenous leukemia or AML. That’s a type of leukemia that comes not from lymphocytes but from myelocytes, a different type of immune cell.

Read more patient experiences with first symptoms of lymphoma »

Blood Cancer Oncologists & Experts

Rafael Fonseca, MD

Role: Interim executive director, hematologist-oncologist
Focus: Multiple myeloma, new drug development
Institution: Mayo Clinic

Farrukh Awan, MD

Role:Hematologist-oncologist, associate professor
Focus:Leukemias, Lymphomas, BMT
Institution:UT Southwestern

Nina Shah, MD

Role: Hematologist-oncologist, researcher
Focus: Multiple Myeloma
Institution: University of California, San Francisco (UCSF)

Kerry Rogers, MD

Role: Hematologist, researcher
Focus: Chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL), Hairy Cell Leukemia (HCL)
Institution: OSUCCC-The James

Tim Fenske, MD, MS

Role: Hematologist-Oncologist
Focus: chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) & leukemia and lymphoma | CAR T, targeted therapy
Provider: Medical College of Wisconsin

Irene Ghobrial, MD

Role: Clinical investigator and professor of hematological oncology
Focus: Multiple myeloma, Waldenström’s Macroglobulinemia, early screening, clinical trials
Provider:Dana-Farber Cancer Institute (Boston)

Edmund Tai, M.D.

Role: General oncologist, hematologist
Focus: Specialist in treating Chinese-speaking patients
Provider: Sutter Health (Bay Area, CA)

Jacqueline Barrientos, MD

Role: Hematologist, researcher
Focus: Chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL), lymphoma, 17p Deletion (Ibrutinib, Acalabrutinib, Venetoclax), IgHV mutation
Provider: Northwell Health (NYC)

James Berenson, MD

Oncologist: Specializing in myeloma and other blood and bone disorders
Experience: 35+ years
Institution: Berenson Cancer Center

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