Hodgkin Disease

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Causes, Risk Factors, and Prevention TOPICS

What are the risk factors for Hodgkin disease?

A risk factor is anything that affects your chance of getting a disease such as cancer. Different cancers have different risk factors. Some cancer risk factors, like smoking, can be changed. Others, like a person’s age or family history, can’t be changed.

But risk factors don’t tell us everything. Having a risk factor, or even several, does not mean that you will definitely get the disease. And many people who get the disease may have few or no known risk factors. Even if a person with Hodgkin disease has one or more risk factors, it is often very hard to know how much these factors might have contributed to the lymphoma.

Scientists have found a few risk factors that may make a person more likely to develop Hodgkin disease, although it’s not always clear why these factors increase risk.

Epstein-Barr virus infection/mononucleosis

People who have had infectious mononucleosis (sometimes called mono for short), an infection caused by the Epstein-Barr virus (EBV), have an increased risk of Hodgkin disease. The risk appears to be a few times higher than for people who have not had mono, although the overall risk is still very small.

The exact role of EBV in the development of Hodgkin disease is not clear. DNA from the virus is found in Reed-Sternberg cells in about half of patients with Hodgkin disease. But the other half has no evidence of EBV in their cancer cells. Many people are infected with EBV, but very few develop Hodgkin disease.


Anyone can be diagnosed with Hodgkin disease, but it is most common in early adulthood (ages 15 to 40, especially in a person’s 20s) and in late adulthood (after age 55).


Hodgkin disease occurs slightly more often in males than in females.


Hodgkin disease is most common in the United States, Canada, and northern Europe, and is least common in Asian countries.

Family history

Brothers and sisters of young people with this disease have a higher risk for Hodgkin disease. The risk is very high for an identical twin of a person with Hodgkin disease. But a family link is still uncommon, and is seen in only around 5% of all cases.

It’s not clear why family history might increase risk. It might be because family members have similar childhood exposures to certain infections (such as Epstein-Barr virus), inherited gene changes that make them more susceptible, or some combination of these factors.

Socioeconomic status

The risk of Hodgkin disease is greater in people with a higher socioeconomic background. The reason for this is not clear. One theory is that children from more affluent families might be exposed to some type of infection (such as Epstein-Barr virus) later in life than children from less affluent families, which might somehow increase their risk.

HIV infection

The risk of Hodgkin disease is increased in people infected with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.

Last Medical Review: 12/10/2012
Last Revised: 02/07/2014