Causes and risk factors of Hodgkin lymphoma

The causes of Hodgkin lymphoma are mostly unknown. But some things may increase your risk of developing it.

What are risk factors?

Doctors do not know exactly what causes Hodgkin lymphoma. But some things may increase your risk of developing it. These are called risk factors.

Having these risk factors does not mean you will get lymphoma. Many people affected by lymphoma do not have any risk factors.

If you are worried about lymphoma and would like to talk to someone, we're here. You can:

Age

Hodgkin lymphoma is more common in people over 70. But it can happen at any age. It is one of the most common cancers in people in their teens and early 20s.

Gender

Lymphoma is slightly more common in men than women.

Infection

The Epstein Barr virus (EBV) is sometimes linked to Hodgkin lymphoma. EBV is the virus that causes glandular fever. It is very common in the UK and does not usually cause serious illness. It is rare to develop lymphoma because of an EBV infection.

Lymphoma is not infectious and cannot be passed on to other people.

A weakened immune system

If your immune system is weak, you have a higher risk of developing lymphoma.

Conditions such as HIV can weaken the immune system. We have more information about lymphoma and HIV.

Drugs called immunosuppressants can also weaken the immune system. Some people need these drugs after an organ transplant or to treat auto-immune disease.

Having a close relative with lymphoma

People who have a parent, brother or sister with lymphoma, have higher risk of developing Hodgkin lymphoma. The reason for this is not known. It may be because there is a genetic change that runs in families. Or it could be because people within one family tend to have the same lifestyle factors.

This risk is very small. Most people who have a close relative with lymphoma will not develop lymphoma.

Smoking

Smoking may increase the risk of developing Hodgkin lymphoma.

Being overweight

Being overweight may increase the risk of getting Hodgkin lymphoma.

About our information

  • References

    Below is a sample of the sources used in our Hodgkin lymphoma (HL) information. If you would like more information about the sources we use, please contact us at cancerinformationteam@macmillan.org.uk

    Hodgkin lymphoma: ESMO Clinical Practice Guidelines for diagnosis, treatment and follow-up; European Society for Medical Oncology (2018).

    National Institute of Health and Care Excellence (NICE). Blood and bone marrow cancers. NICE Pathways. Last accessed 3 December 2020.

  • Reviewers

    This information has been written, revised and edited by Macmillan Cancer Support’s Cancer Information Development team. It has been reviewed by expert medical and health professionals and people living with cancer. It has been approved by Senior Medical Editor, Professor Rajnish Gupta, Macmillan Consultant Medical Oncologist.

    Our cancer information has been awarded the PIF TICK. Created by the Patient Information Forum, this quality mark shows we meet PIF’s 10 criteria for trustworthy health information.