Causes and Risk Factors of Hodgkin Lymphoma

The exact causes for Hodgkin lymphoma are still being determined, but some of the risk factors can include age, gender, and family history.

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Researchers don’t know the exact reason why Hodgkin lymphoma starts. It 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. Having one or more risk factors for Hodgkin lymphoma doesn't necessarily mean you will get the condition. Some people with Hodgkin lymphoma don’t have any risk factors. Researchers are still looking into the reasons behind these increased risks.


Hodgkin lymphoma is most common in young adults. It is the most diagnosed cancer in patients aged 15 to 19.

The average age of people when they are diagnosed is 39. However, there’s also been an uptick in cases in those 55 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 than men of the same age group (52 years and under).


Hodgkin lymphoma is more common in young adults and men.

Previous Epstein-Barr Virus Infection

Between 30% and 50% of Hodgkin lymphoma cases are associated with the Epstein-Barr virus (EBV). EBV is a common cause of mononucleosis, also known as mono or “the kissing disease."

Parts of the EBV have been found in Hodgkin lymphoma cancer cells called the Reed-Sternberg cells. 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 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 before age 30, 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 sibling—especially a twin—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.

11 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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By Colleen Travers
Colleen Travers writes about health, fitness, travel, parenting, and women’s lifestyle for various publications and brands.