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Non-Hodgkin lymphoma risk factors

In most cases, the exact cause or causes of non-Hodgkin lymphoma are unknown. Some individuals without any of the known or suspected risk factors may still develop the disease. It is not clear why or how certain factors may increase your risk of developing non-Hodgkin lymphoma. For instance, exposure to certain chemicals, such as pesticides, may increase your risk, but research is inconclusive and ongoing.

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Non-Hodgkin lymphoma risk factors

In most cases, the exact cause or causes of non-Hodgkin lymphoma are unknown. Some individuals without any of the known or suspected risk factors may still develop the disease. It is not clear why or how certain factors may increase your risk of developing non-Hodgkin lymphoma. For instance, exposure to certain chemicals, such as pesticides, may increase your 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 diseases, 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 risk factors for non-Hodgkin lymphoma include:

Age: The risk of being diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma increases with age. The median 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.

Last Revised: 02/02/2018

Understanding risk factors

Anything that increases your risk of getting a disease is called a risk factor. Having a risk factor does not mean that you will get cancer. Not having risk factors doesn’t mean that you will not get cancer. If you think you may be at risk, you should discuss it with your doctor.

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