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Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma: Risk Factors

What is a risk factor?

A risk factor is anything that may increase your chance of having a disease. Risk factors for a certain type of cancer might include smoking, diet, family history, or many other things. The exact cause of someone’s cancer may not be known. But risk factors can make it more likely for a person to have cancer.

Things you should know about risk factors for cancer:                               

  • Risk factors can increase your risk. But they might not cause the disease. 

  • Some people with 1 or more risk factors never get cancer. Other people may get cancer but have no risk factors.

  • Some risk factors are very well known. But experts are studying risk factors for many types of cancer.

  • Some risk factors may not be in your control. This includes your family history. But others might be things you can change. Knowing the risk factors can help you make choices that might lower your risk.

Who is at risk for non-Hodgkin lymphoma?

Risk factors for non-Hodgkin lymphoma include:

  • Age. The risk of non-Hodgkin lymphoma goes up you get older. But some types of non-Hodgkin lymphoma are more common in younger people.

  • Gender. More men than women get non-Hodgkin lymphoma. But certain types are more common in women.

  • Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) infection. EBV is the virus that causes mono (mononucleosis). People who have been infected with this virus may have a higher risk of non-Hodgkin lymphoma. But many people are infected with EBV, and few of them get non-Hodgkin lymphoma.

  • Certain other infections. Infection with certain other viruses and bacteria can raise your risk for some types of non-Hodgkin lymphoma. This includes infections with the hepatitis C virus, the HTLV-1 virus, and a type of bacteria known as H. pylori (Helicobacter pylori). 

  • A weak immune system. A weakened immune systems puts you at higher risk for non-Hodgkin lymphoma. For example, people who are infected with HIV have an increased risk. The same is true of people who have had organ transplants and take medicine to suppress their immune system.

  • Past cancer treatment. If you have been treated for cancer in the past using some types of chemotherapy or radiation therapy, you may have a slightly higher risk for non-Hodgkin lymphoma.

  • Autoimmune disorders. Diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, Sjogren syndrome, and celiac disease put you at higher risk.

  • Certain chemicals. Contact with some chemicals, such as benzene and certain pesticides, may increase your risk.

  • Breast implants. In rare cases, women with breast implants can develop lymphoma in the breast.

What are your risk factors?

Talk with your healthcare provider about your risk factors for non-Hodgkin lymphoma. Ask if there are things you can do to lower your risk. Some of the risk factors for non-Hodgkin lymphoma can’t be changed. These include age, gender, and EBV infection. There are things you can do to lower your risk of infection with viruses such as HIV and HCV. But these viruses don't play a role in most cases of non-Hodgkin lymphoma.

There are no regular screening tests to look for non-Hodgkin lymphoma if you don’t have symptoms. But you should know about possible symptoms of non-Hodgkin lymphoma. This is even more important if you have known risk factors for it. See your healthcare provider if you have symptoms, such as enlarged lymph nodes, that don’t go away after a few weeks.

Online Medical Reviewer: Alteri, Rick, MD
Online Medical Reviewer: LoCicero, Richard, MD
Date Last Reviewed: 9/1/2017
© 2019 The StayWell Company, LLC. 800 Township Line Road, Yardley, PA 19067. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare provider's instructions.