Whats the difference  - Your Question 1 - What is the difference between Myeloma, Leukemia and Lymphoma?
April 9th, 2017 by Janine

A cracking question

A cracking question and one that had crossed my mind when I first started learning about Myeloma.  Most of us have heard of Leukemia, or know someone who has requested donations for a fun run they are doing in the name of a charity, supporting people living with Leukemia or sponsoring Leukemia research.  It seems Myeloma and Lymphoma are less visible or talked about. To rectify this, please find a wee overview of their similarities and differences below.


Do keep your questions coming. 

They are helpful to me and I am sure they may be helpful to others too.  It is fine to ask; What is X?, How are you coping with Y? or Are you afraid of Z?  All questions make me think, reflect and ensure I am staying informed and open with myself, and others, about all aspects of this journey.  So seriously, even though you have heard it a million times before: No question is a silly question!

Differences and Similarities

Multiple myeloma and myeloid leukemia have much in common. The names are similar, because they are both cancers that start in the bone marrow. Many of the symptoms are similar, and even some of the same drugs are used to treat both diseases. However, they are two distinctly different entities.  Multiple myeloma and myeloid leukemia involve different cell types; B plasma cells and myeloid line of cells respectively.

Lymphoma specifically affects the lymph nodes. The type of lymphoma is based on the origins of the cancer cells. Some start in the lymphatic system (Hodgkin’s), while others begin in the white blood cells (non-Hodgkin lymphomas).



Topic Leukemia Multiple Myeloma Lymphoma
Stats (UK, 2014):

New Cases


Survival (10+yrs, 2011)

Preventable Cases














2106 (H)  13605 (n-H)

355 (H)     4801 (n-H)

80% (H)     63% (n-H)

45% (H)      6% (n-H)

Cell type Myeloid Type B Plasma
Arises in Bone Marrow and Blood in form of Myeloblasts and Lymphoblasts Myelium

(Bone marrow)

Lymphatic system, or white blood cells
Some Symptoms Bone Fractures

Risk Factors associated with an increased chance of developing the disease

·       Pre-existing blood disorders eg. MDS or MPN



·       Age – most forms of leukaemia are more common in older people. The main exception to this is ALL in which peak incidence is in children









·       Age—Most myeloma patients are between 50 and 70 years old





·       Race— Almost twice as common in Black populations as it is in White and Asian populations



For Hodgkin’s;

·       Infection with infectious mononucleosis

·       Age—Hodgkin’s disease occurs most often in people between ages 15 and 34, and in people over the age of 55

·       Epstein-Barr virus may increase a person’s risk of Hodgkin’s disease

·       Acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS)


For Non-Hodgkin’s;

·       Unprotected exposure to strong sunlight

·       A high-fat, low-fibre diet

·       Smoking or the use of tobacco products

·       Excessive alcohol consumption

·       Organ transplantation

·       Infections with human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) or human T-cell leukemia/lymphoma virus (HTLV-1)

·       Infections with malaria

·       A history of infectious mononucleosis (caused by an infection with the Epstein-Barr virus)

·       Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori) bacterium, which has been identified as a cause of stomach ulcers





Topic Leukemia Multiple Myeloma Lymphoma
Blood cancer X X X
Scientists unsure why one person is more likely than another to get this cancer X X X
Exact causes unknown X X X
Starts in bone marrow X X
Some Symptoms (e.g. anaemia, bruising and infections) X X
Drug treatment (some) X X
Risk factors associated with an increased chance of developing the disease ·       Exposure to high levels of radiation and particular chemicals, especially benzene and some chemotherapy drugs



·       Particular genetic disorders e.g. Down’s syndrome


·       Gender— more common in men than in women


·       Exposure to certain workplace chemicals and large amounts of radiation









·       Gender— more common in men than in women


·       A family history of myeloma



For Non-Hodgkin’s;

·       Environmental factors such as radiation, chemicals, and infections





·       Genetic disease of the immune system


·       Gender—more common in men than in women


·       Family history of lymphoma, particularly brothers and sisters




Leukemia (also spelled Leukaemia)

Leukemia is cancer of the blood cells, usually affecting the white blood cells, which causes these cells to not work properly.

There are four main types of leukemia; acute myelogenous leukemia (AML), chronic myelogenous leukemia (CML), acute lymphocytic leukemia (ALL), or chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL). In addition to these, there are other types and subtypes of leukemia.

Leukemia can occur in either the lymphoid or myeloid white blood cells. Cancer that develops in the lymphoid cells is called lymphocytic leukemia. Cancer that develops in the myeloid cells is called myelogenous leukemia. The disease can be either acute (begins abruptly and is usually short lived) or chronic (persists for a long period of time).

Acute leukemia involves new or immature cells, called blasts, which remain very immature and cannot perform their functions. The blasts increase in number rapidly, and the disease progresses quickly. In chronic leukemia, there are some blasts present, but they are more mature and can perform some of their functions. The cells grow more slowly so the disease progresses gradually.



Multiple myeloma is a type of cancer that affects certain white blood cells called plasma cells. Plasma cells are part of the immune system, which helps protect the body from infection and disease. Like all white blood cells, plasma cells begin their development in the bone marrow, the soft, spongy tissue that fills the centre of most bones.

When cancer involves plasma cells, the body keeps producing more and more of these cells. The unneeded plasma cells—all abnormal and exactly alike—are called myeloma cells. Myeloma cells tend to collect in the bone marrow and in the hard, outer part of the bones. Patients with multiple myeloma suffer bone fractures in parts of the bone where the cancer is lodged. Ninety percent of patients have cancer lodged in different bony locations, which is why it is referred to as “multiple.”

In most cases, people who develop multiple myeloma have no clear risk factors. Scientists believe the disease may be the result of several factors (known and/or unknown) acting together.  (Wish I knew what they were so I avoid the same combination of factors again!!!)

The name “myeloma” is somewhat deceiving because this cancer does not involve myeloid cells.  It gets its name because it arises in the myelium, or bone marrow.



Lymphoma is a type of cancer that originates in the lymphatic system. There are two main types of lymphoma. Hodgkin’s lymphoma (or Hodgkin’s disease) and non-Hodgkin’s lymphomas.

Hodgkin’s lymphoma or Hodgkin’s disease causes the cells in the lymphatic system to abnormally reproduce, eventually making the body less able to fight infection. All other types of lymphoma are called non-Hodgkin’s lymphomas.

Cancers that spread to lymph nodes from other parts of the body are not lymphomas.

The lymphatic system, the tissues and organs that produce, store, and carry white blood cells that fight infections and other diseases, includes the bone marrow, spleen, thymus, lymph nodes, and lymphatic vessels. It is important for filtering germs and cancer cells from various parts of the body. Lymphoid tissue is found in many places throughout the body, including lymph nodes, the thymus (found behind the chest bone and in front of the heart), the spleen (on the left side of the abdomen next to the stomach), the tonsils and adenoids, in the bone marrow, and scattered within other systems such as the digestive and respiratory systems.



Cancer Research UK



Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Centre (University of Miami Health System) http://sylvester.org/cancer/leukemia-lymphoma-and-myeloma/education/definition


Leukaemia Care



Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation MMRF






Illustration: Sapphire Weerakone


© 2017 Janine Hayward www.psychingoutcancer.com.  All rights reserved.

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