The information on this page was reviewed and approved by
Maurie Markman, MD, President, Medicine & Science at CTCA.

This page was updated on September 21, 2021.

Risk factors for non-Hodgkin lymphoma

Each year, about 75,000 Americans are diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma. No one knows if or when non-Hodgkin lymphoma will develop, but it is important to understand common risk factors that may increase your chances of developing the disease.

What causes non-Hodgkin lymphoma?

Non-Hodgkin lymphoma develops when the DNA in immune cells called lymphocytes mutate or change, disabling their ability to control growth and division. In some cases, these mutated cells grow out of control, crowding out healthy cells in the lymphatic system, reducing the body’s ability to fight infection.

While the exact cause of non-Hodgkin lymphoma is not known, the risk of developing the disease increases with age. Also, exposure to certain chemicals, such as pesticides, may increase risk, but research is inconclusive and ongoing.

People may be at higher risk of non-Hodgkin lymphoma if they have diseases or conditions that affect the immune system and/or have been treated for those conditions or disease, including:

  • Autoimmune diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis, lupus and celiac disease
  • Treatments with drugs, such as methotrexate or TNF inhibitors for rheumatoid arthritis
  • Viruses and infections, such as HIV/AIDS, Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori) infection, Epstein-Barr virus, human T-cell leukemia/lymphoma virus, human herpes virus 8, hepatitis C virus
  • Radiation therapy and/or chemotherapy to treat other cancers
  • Immunosuppressant drugs to treat patients who have had an organ transplant
  • Inherited immune disorders, such as Wiskott-Aldrich syndrome

Other known risk factors include:

Age: The risk of being diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma increases with age. The media age of a patient at the time of a non-Hodgkin lymphoma diagnosis is 67. Seventy-seven percent of all cases occur in patients older than 55.

Gender: Men have a slightly greater chance of developing the disease than women.

Race: Non-Hodgkin lymphoma is more common in Caucasians than in African Americans.

Exposure: People exposed to certain chemicals, such as pesticides, fertilizers, herbicides and insecticides, may be at risk, but research on the exact link has been inconclusive and is ongoing. Exposure to radiation from nuclear or industrial sources may also increase risk.

Diet: Research is inconclusive on the link between obesity and a high-fat diet and non-Hodgkin lymphoma. However, some studies are exploring how a healthy diet rich in fruits and vegetables may lower the risk of lymphoma.

Next topic: What are the symptoms of non-Hodgkin lymphoma?