The Difference Between B Cells and T Cells
- Lymphoma starts in two types of immune cells: B cells and T cells
- Both types of cells help your body fight infections and other foreign invaders
- Knowing which type of cell your cancer started in can help your doctor find the right treatment
“B cells and T cells are both types of lymphocytes. Lymphocytes are part of your immune system,” Dr. Elise Chong, medical oncologist at Penn Medicine, tells SurvivorNet. Lymphocytes are a type of white blood cell that helps your body fight infections.Read More
About B Cells and T CellsBoth B cells and T cells are part of the body’s adaptive immune response. They’ve learned to identify viruses and other foreign cells, so they can fight them off when they spot them. The job of B cells is to produce Y-shaped proteins called antibodies. Antibodies stick to a very specific protein called an antigen on the surface of viruses, bacteria, or cancer cells and mark them for destruction by other immune cells. Essentially, they send in the immune brigade to attack the invader.
T cells work in one of two ways. They can help boost the activity of the immune system to help it respond to infections and other threats. “T cells also can directly attack infections,” Dr. Chong says.
Immune Cells and Lymphoma Type
Non-Hodgkin lymphoma can grow from either of these two cell types. “Depending on what type of either B cell or T cell they arise from, that dictates what type of lymphoma you have,” Dr. Chong says.
The types of B-cell lymphoma include:
- Diffuse large B-cell lymphoma
- Follicular lymphoma
- Chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL)/small lymphocytic lymphoma (SLL)
- Mantle cell lymphoma
- Marginal zone lymphomas
- Burkitt lymphoma
The types of T-cell lymphoma include:
- T-lymphoblastic leukemia/lymphoma
- Peripheral T-cell lymphomas
Figuring out your lymphoma type, which your doctor will do with the help of a biopsy, will ensure that you get the right treatment. Chemotherapy might be part of the treatment for both B-cell and T-cell lymphomas, but other treatments are more specific to the cell type. For example, the immunotherapy drug rituximab (Rituxan) only works against the CD20 antigen, which is on the surface of some B cells.
Before you start on a treatment, make sure you understand what kind of lymphoma you have, and what therapies are likely to be most effective against it.