Lymphoma Risk Factors: Age, Infections, Exposures

While we don't know for certain what causes the diseases, we do have some information at what appears to put people at an increased risk of developing the disease.

Doctor palpating woman's lymph nodes
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Keep in mind that anyone can develop lymphoma. Some people develop the disease who have no risk factors, and others have many risk factors but never develop lymphoma.

There are two main types of lymphoma, and some of the risk factors are different for these two types. The list below will consider mostly risk factors for non-Hodgkin lymphoma, with a section at the bottom of this article listing risk factors which may be unique for Hodgkin lymphoma.

Risk Factors for Lymphoma

Age. Lymphoma can develop in both children and adults, but the majority of people diagnosed are usually are over the age of 60. Often when non-Hodgkin lymphoma occurs in young children it is related to an immune deficiency disorder.

Sex. Men are slightly more prone to lymphoma than women, but some individual types of lymphoma are more common in women.

Race. Lymphoma is more common in white people in the United States than in African-Americans or Asian-Americans.

Weakened immune system. People with immune deficiency diseases, with HIV/AIDS, or who are on immunosuppressive drugs for an organ transplant are more susceptible to lymphoma.

Infections. Infectious disease which may increase the risk of lymphoma include hepatitis C, Epstein-Barr infections (Burkitt lymphoma), H. pylori (the bacteria which may cause stomach ulcers and which raises the risk of MALT lymphoma of the stomach), Chlamydia psittaci (which causes psittacosis), human herpes virus 8 (which increases the risk of Kaposi's lymphoma among others), HTLV-1 (which is linked with T cell lymphoma but uncommon in the United States).

Autoimmune diseases. Lymphoma is more common among people with rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, Sjogren's syndrome, hemolytic anemia, and celiac disease. People with celiac disease who have good control of their diet appear to have a lower risk than those who are less careful with their diets.

Radiation. People exposed to high levels of radiation such as survivors of nuclear reactor accidents and atomic bombs are at an increased risk for developing non-Hodgkin's lymphoma.

Cancer treatments. Both chemotherapy and radiation therapy for cancer may increase the chance of developing lymphoma.

Chemical/environmental exposures. Exposure to pesticides, herbicides, and some organic solvents may increase risk.

Breast implants. Though rare, breast implants are associated with anaplastic large cell lymphoma in scar tissue.

Immunizations. The relationship between vaccinations and lymphoma remains unclear and controversial. While previous studies indicated that BCG vaccination may be associated with a higher risk of developing lymphoma, a 2020 study found this association to be unclear.  Other vaccines (measles, flu) may also increase the risk of developing lymphoma and others (tetanus, polio, smallpox) may decrease the lymphoma risk, but the epidemiologic data supporting these associations is not yet mature.

Family history. While some patients with lymphoma claim to have family members also afflicted with the disease, there is no known evidence that lymphoma is hereditary. In some instances, conditions that affect the immune system may run in families, therefore increasing the chances of lymphoma developing within families.

Risk Factors for Hodgkin Lymphoma

The risk factors for Hodgkin lymphoma are often different for those with non-Hodgkin lymphoma.

Age. Hodgkin lymphoma is most common between the ages of 15 and 40.

Infection. A former infection with the Epstein-Barr virus, the virus which causes the notorious symptoms of mononucleosis, is common.

Family history. Roughly 5% of people who develop Hodgkin disease have a family history of the disease.

1 Source
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.
  1. Salmon C, Conus F, Parent MÉ, Benedetti A, Rousseau MC. Association between Bacillus Calmette-Guerin (BCG) vaccination and lymphoma risk: A systematic review and meta-analysisCancer Epidemiol. 2020;65:101696. doi:10.1016/j.canep.2020.101696

Additional Reading
  • Alavanja, M., Ross, M., and M. Bonner. Increased cancer burden among pesticide applicators and others due to pesticide exposure. CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians. 2013. 63(2):120-42.
  • American Cancer Society. What are the risk factors for non-Hodgkin lymphoma? Updated 01/22/16. 
  • American Society of Clinical Oncology. Lymphoma – Non-Hodgkin: Risk Factors. 04/2014.
  • de Jong, D., Vasmel, W., and J. de Boer. Anaplastic large-cell lymphoma in women with breast implants. JAMA. 300(17):2030-5.
  • Grulich, A., and C. Vajdic. The epidemiology of non-Hodgkin lymphoma. Pathology. 20015. 37(6):409-19.

By Lisa Fayed
Lisa Fayed is a freelance medical writer, cancer educator and patient advocate.