Causes and risk factors of Hodgkin lymphoma

In many cases, experts don’t know exactly what causes lymphoma. However, some things may increase the risk of developing it.

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 doesn’t 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 autoimmune disease.

Previous non-Hodgkin lymphoma

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 don’t 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.

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Back to Diagnosing

How lymphoma is diagnosed

Usually you begin by seeing your GP, who will refer you to hospital to see a specialist for a biopsy and tests.