What are risk factors?

In many cases, experts do not know exactly what causes lymphoma. However, some things may increase the risk of developing it. These are called risk factors.

It is important to remember that having these risk factors does not mean you will get lymphoma. Many people affected by lymphoma do not have any risk factors.


Hodgkin lymphoma is more common in people who are 20 to 34 years old or over 70 years old.


Hodgkin lymphoma is slightly more common in men than women.


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 very 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 the body's immune system is weak, the risk of developing lymphoma may be higher.

Conditions such as HIV can weaken the immune system. Drugs called immunosuppressants also cause this. Some people need this type of drug after an organ transplant or to treat auto-immune disease.

Previous non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL)

People who have had non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL) have a higher risk of developing Hodgkin lymphoma in the future. You can speak to your doctor about this.

Having a close relative with lymphoma

People who have a parent, brother or sister with lymphoma have a slightly higher risk of developing Hodgkin lymphoma. We do not know why this is yet. It may be because there is a genetic change that runs in families. Or it may be because people in a family tend to have the same lifestyle and live in similar environments.

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

About our information

  • 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 Editors, Dr Anne Parker, Consultant Haematologist; and 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.

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