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 usually starts in the B lymphocytes of the body, which create antibodies to protect the body from germs. While 95% of people with Hodgkin lymphoma are diagnosed as classic Hodgkin lymphoma there are four subtypes—nodular sclerosis Hodgkin lymphoma, mixed cellularity Hodgkin lymphoma, lymphocyte-rich Hodgkin lymphoma, and lymphocyte-depleted Hodgkin lymphoma.

All of the subtypes of Hodgkin lymphoma have the same underlying causes and risk factors, including a mix of past viral infection, age, gender, family history, and preexisting conditions that may compromise the immune system.

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Common Causes

The medical community has no way to pinpoint the exact cause of a Hodgkin lymphoma diagnosis, but the cancer begins when an antibody-producing lymphocyte becomes altered and multiplies quickly. These diseased cells eventually build up and overtake healthy lymphocytes, which is the case no matter which type of Hodgkin lymphoma a person may have.

Some of the most common causes and risk factors of Hodgkin lymphoma 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. While prevalent among a younger population, the five-year survival rate for Hodgkin lymphoma is high at 86%.


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).

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) and parts of the EBV have been found in Reed-Sternberg cells (mutated lymphocytes).

However, while there is a connection between EBV and Hodgkin lymphoma, the risk increase is small—approximately 1 in 1,000 people—meaning that those who have had mono in the past shouldn’t automatically assume to run into a Hodgkins lymphoma diagnosis later in life.

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 the medications used to treat HIV weaken the immune system. This may also be an issue for certain individuals with auto-immune diseases.


Unlike Non-Hodgkin lymphoma, there isn’t as strong of a connection between family history or genetics and a Hodgkin lymphoma diagnosis.

You may be more susceptible to a genetic mutation that could cause Hodgkin lymphoma if a direct relative has the disease (such as a mother, father, or sibling) but this may be due to a DNA defect or lifestyle risk factors you share by living in the same place or following the same lifestyle habits.

Where family history comes into stronger association is for siblings of a young patient diagnosed with Hodgkin lymphoma as well as identical twins, due to shared genetic components and possible similar exposure to viruses like EBV.


Cardiovascular issues are not a direct link to a Hodgkin lymphoma diagnosis, however those with Hodgkin lymphoma may encounter heart health issues over time. A study published in JAMA Internal Medicine found that Hodgkin lymphoma survivors have an increased risk for cardiovascular disease for at least 40 years after diagnosis.

Lifestyle Risk Factors

The same habits that can lead to any type of cancer diagnosis are true when it comes to Hodgkin lymphoma. Having a poor diet that’s deficient in fruit and vegetable intake, smoking, excessive alcohol consumption, and carrying extra body fat are all increased risk factors.

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

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 causes 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 and give your body its best defense in fighting off viruses that may lead to an increased risk of Hodgkin lymphoma and any other type of illness.

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