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Non-hodgkin's Lymphoma Causes & Risk Factors

Doctors can seldom explain why one person develops non-Hodgkin's lymphoma and another does not. But research shows that certain risk factors increase the chance that a person will develop this disease. In general, the risk factors for non-Hodgkin's lymphoma include the following:


Weak immune system: Having a weak immune system (from an inherited condition, HIV infection, or certain drugs) increases the risk of developing non-Hodgkin's lymphoma.

Certain infections: Having certain types of infections increases the risk of developing lymphoma. However, lymphoma is not contagious. You cannot "catch" lymphoma from another person.

The following are the main types of infection that can increase the risk of lymphoma:

  • Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV): HIV is the virus that causes AIDS. People who have HIV infection are at much greater risk of some types of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma.
  • Epstein-Barr virus (EBV): Infection with EBV has been linked to an increased risk of lymphoma. In Africa, EBV infection is linked to Burkitt's lymphoma.
  • Helicobacter pylori: H. pylori are bacteria that can cause stomach ulcers. They also increase a person's risk of lymphoma in the stomach lining.
  • Human T-cell leukemia/lymphoma virus (HTLV-1): Infection with HTLV-1 increases a person's risk of lymphoma and leukemia.
  • Hepatitis C virus: Some studies have found an increased risk of lymphoma in people with hepatitis C virus. More research is needed to understand the role of hepatitis C virus.

Age: Although non-Hodgkin's lymphoma can occur in young people, the chance of developing this disease goes up with age. Most people with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma are older than 60.

Researchers are studying obesity and other possible risk factors for non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. People who work with herbicides or certain other chemicals may be at increased risk of this disease. Researchers are also looking at a possible link between using hair dyes before 1980 and non-Hodgkin's lymphoma.

Most people who have known risk factors do not get non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. On the other hand, people who do get the disease often have no known risk factors. If you think you may be at risk, you should discuss this concern with your doctor.

Non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma Symptoms

Non-Hodgkin's lymphoma can cause many symptoms:

  • Swollen, painless lymph nodes in the neck, armpits, or groin
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Fever
  • Soaking night sweats
  • Coughing, trouble breathing, or chest pain
  • Weakness and tiredness that don't go away
  • Pain, swelling, or a feeling of fullness in the abdomen
  • Skin rash or itchy skin.

Most often, these symptoms are not due to cancer. Infections or other health problems may also cause these symptoms. Anyone with symptoms that do not go away within 2 weeks should see a doctor so that problems can be diagnosed and treated.

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This information is not a substitute for your doctor's medical advice