Risk Factors

Risk factors are characteristics or exposures of an individual that can increase the likelihood of developing a disease. Certain cancer risk factors, such as smoking, can be changed. 

Other cancer risk factors, such as a person’s age or family history, cannot be. Having one or even many risk factors does not mean that a person will definitely get the disease, and many people who are diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma have few if any risk factors. 

The following are risk factors that have been associated with non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL):

Although people of any age can be diagnosed with NHL, people are commonly diagnosed when they are 60 or older. 

NHL occurs more frequently in men than women, but there are certain types of NHL more common in women. Reasons for this are not known. 

Diagnosis of HL is more common in North American and northern European countries. It is least commonly diagnosed in Asian countries. Worldwide, NHL is more common in developed countries.

Race and Ethnicity
In the United States, Caucasian (white) individuals are more prone to developing NHL than African Americans or Asian Americans.

Radiation Exposure
Increased risk of developing a number of types of cancers, including NHL, leukemia, and thyroid cancers, has been attributed to atomic bombs and nuclear reactor accidents. People treated with radiation therapy for certain types of cancers have a slightly increased risk of developing NHL.

Chemical Exposure
Chemicals such as benzene, in addition to certain herbicides (weed killing) and insecticides (insect killing) may be linked with an increased risk of developing NHL. In addition to these chemicals, chemotherapy drugs used in the treatment of other cancers could increase the risk of development of NHL. It is important to note, however, that the association between these chemotherapy drugs and development of NHL is not clear, as the development of NHL may be related to the disease itself or the effect of the treatment. 

Specific Infections
There are specific types of infections that may raise the risk of developing NHL:

  • Infections that Weaken the Immune System
    > HIV Infection - Risk of NHL is increased in people with the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), the virus that causes AIDS. HIV infection is a risk factor for developing specific types of NHL, such as Burkitt lymphoma.

  • Infections that Transform Lymphocytes
    > Specific viruses, including the human T-cell leukemia/lymphoma virus (HTLV-1) and the Epstein-Barr virus (EBV), directly affect the DNA of lymphocytes. Infection with HTLV-1 increases a person’s risk of developing certain T-cell lymphomas, and is most common in parts of Asia and the Caribbean. Infection with EBV is a risk factor for Burkitt lymphoma, and rare forms of NHL. 
  • Infections that Cause Chronic Immune Stimulation
    > Specific long-term infections may increase one’s risk of developing NHL by forcing the immune system to be constantly “turned on” and activated. As more and more lymphocytes are made to fight the infection, greater chances for genetic mutations occur, which could lead to development of NHL. Infection with bacteria and viruses such as Helicobacter pylori, Campylobacter jejuni, and Hepatitis C have been defined as risk factors for NHL. 

Body Weight
Researchers have shown that keeping your body at a healthy weight and eating a healthy diet have a number of health benefits and may reduce the risk of NHL development. There are studies that have suggested that being overweight, obese and eating a diet high in fats and meats may increase the risk of disease development.

Breast Implants
Although rare, there have been cases of women with breast implants developing a specific type of NHL, anaplastic large cell lymphoma, in scar tissue.

Updated 2/24/15