Hodgkin lymphoma causes and risk factors

This page was reviewed under our medical and editorial policy by

Maurie Markman, MD, President, Medicine & Science

This page was updated on May 26, 2022.

Each year, more than 8,800 new cases of Hodgkin lymphoma are diagnosed in the United States, according to the American Cancer Society. No one knows whether or when this type of blood cancer will develop, but it’s important to understand the risk factors for this disease. 

What causes Hodgkin lymphoma?

Hodgkin lymphoma occurs when the DNA in a white blood cell mutates, or changes. These cells force normal white blood cells out, and cancerous cells form into masses that are typically located in the lymph nodes, but may be found in other body areas where lymphoid tissue is present. Lymph nodes are found throughout the body.

While the exact cause of Hodgkin lymphoma may not be known, several factors my increase the risk for developing the disease.

Hodgkin lymphoma risk factors

Gender and age

Age and gender may contribute to the risk for developing Hodgkin lymphoma.

Gender: Men have a slightly greater chance of developing Hodgkin lymphoma than women.

Age: Although people of any age can develop Hodgkin lymphoma, adults in their 20s and early 30s and those over age 55 are at an increased risk for developing this disease. the average age at diagnosis is 39.

Epstein-Barr virus and Hodgkin lymphoma

Known for causing mononucleosis in young adults, Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) may be associated with certain cancers, including lymphomas.

Having a history of mono may increase the risk of developing Hodgkin lymphoma, but the risk is still small at about 1 in every 1,000 people, according to the American Cancer Society (ACS).

Compromised immune system and Hodgkin lymphoma

Having a compromised immune system from HIV/AIDS, or from immunosuppressants to prevent organ transplant rejection, may increase the risk for developing Hodgkin lymphoma.

Is Hodgkin lymphoma hereditary?

Having a parent or sibling with Hodgkin lymphoma may increase the risk for developing the disease. The most significant link between family history and Hodgkin lymphoma involves those who have an identical twin with the condition.

However, the ACS reports that only 5 percent of cases are found to have a genetic connection to the disease.

Learn more about genetic testing

Lifestyle and Hodgkin lymphoma risk

Unlike age and family history, some Hodgkin lymphoma risk factors can be avoided.

Geography: Hodgkin lymphoma is most common in North America and northern Europe. It's less common in Asia and Africa.

Socioeconomic status: Hodgkin lymphoma is more common in individuals with a higher socioeconomic background.

Next topic: What are the symptoms of Hodgkin lymphoma?

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