Causes and Risk Factors of Hodgkin Lymphoma

Age and gender may play a role in the risk factors for this disease

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Hodgkin lymphoma is a type of cancer that starts in white blood cells called lymphocytes. These cells are in the lymph system, which helps fight infections as part of the immune system.

This article discusses the causes and risk factors of Hodgkin lymphoma. While the exact causes are still being determined, risk factors can include age, gender, and family history.

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Researchers don't know the exact reason why Hodgkin lymphoma starts. The cancer begins when a lymphocyte becomes altered and multiplies quickly. It usually starts in B lymphocytes, which make antibodies to protect you from germs. It can spread from lymph node to lymph node, and without treatment, can spread to other parts of the body.

Risk Factors

Risk factors increase your likelihood of getting Hodgkin lymphoma. They don't necessarily mean you will get the condition, and some people with Hodgkin lymphoma don't have any risk factors. Researchers are still looking into the reasons behind these increased risks.

Some of the most common risk factors include:


Hodgkin lymphoma is most common in young adults, and according to the American Cancer Society it’s the most diagnosed cancer in patients between the ages of 15 to 19 years old.

The average diagnosis age is 39. However there’s also been an uptick in cases in those 55 years and older.


Males may be more likely to be diagnosed with Hodgkin lymphoma. One study published in Acta Oncologica also found that premenopausal women had a longer survival rate compared to men of the same age group (52 years and under).


Hodgkin lymphoma is more common in young adults and men. The average age that people are diagnosed is 39.

Previous Epstein-Barr Virus Infection

Research published in the Mediterranean Journal of Hematology and Infectious Diseases found that up to 40% of Hodgkin lymphoma cases have a connection to Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) infection. This virus causes mononucleosis, also known as mono.

Parts of the EBV have been found in Reed-Sternberg cells, which are cancer cells in Hodgkin lymphoma. Researchers don't know how EBV triggers Hodgkin lymphoma. One theory is that it's caused by an abnormal reaction to the virus.

Even with that connection, if you get mono, your risk of getting Hodgkin's lymphoma is small. Approximately 1 in 1,000 people who have had mono are diagnosed with Hodgkin lymphoma.

Human Immunodeficiency Virus Infection

A person with a human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infection is eight times more likely to be diagnosed with Hodgkin lymphoma than a person without HIV. This is because HIV weakens the immune system. This may also be an issue for certain individuals with autoimmune diseases.


Your chance of getting Hodgkin lymphoma slightly increases if you've had mono, which is caused by the Epstein-Barr virus. It's also more common if you have HIV or an autoimmune disease.

Family History

Hodgkin lymphoma doesn't have a strong connection with family history or genetics, unlike Non-Hodgkin lymphoma.

If you and a close family member have Hodgkin lymphoma, it could be due to a genetic change that increases your risk. However, it could also be caused by lifestyle risk factors you and your family share by living in the same place or following the same lifestyle habits.

Family history may play a bigger role for siblings. Your risk of Hodgkin lymphoma is higher if your sibling had it at an early age, especially for identical twins. This could be due to your shared genes as well as possible similar exposure to viruses like EBV.


Hodgkin lymphoma doesn't usually run in families. However, if you have a young sibling with Hodgkin lymphoma, you may have an increased risk.


The same habits that can lead to any type of cancer diagnosis are true when it comes to Hodgkin lymphoma. Having a poor diet with not enough fruits and vegetables, smoking, drinking too much alcohol, and carrying extra body fat are all increased risk factors.

Where you live may also come into play, as Hodgkin lymphoma is more common in the U.S., Canada, and northern Europe (possibly because of exposure to certain viruses and infections in these regions).


While researchers don't know the exact causes of Hodgkin lymphoma, they do know it starts as a genetic change in a white blood cell, known as a lymphocyte.

Some risk factors increase your chance of getting Hodgkin lymphoma. For example, your risk may be greater if you've had certain medical conditions. That includes getting infected with the Epstein-Barr virus that causes mono and conditions that affect the immune system, such as HIV.

A Word From Verywell

There’s much more research to be done when it comes to determining the exact causes of Hodgkin lymphoma, but what is promising is its high survival rate across all stages with treatment.

Many of the above risk factors can’t be prevented, so it’s important to change the risk factors you do have control over, like your diet, exercise, and daily lifestyle habits.

This is the best way to stay as healthy as possible from all diseases. It also gives your body its best defense in fighting off viruses that may lead to an increased risk of Hodgkin lymphoma.

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7 Sources
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