Hodgkin Disease

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Causes, Risk Factors, and Prevention TOPICS

Do we know what causes Hodgkin disease?

The exact cause of Hodgkin disease is not known. However, scientists have found that the disease is linked with a few conditions, such as infection with the Epstein-Barr virus. Some researchers think that this may lead to DNA changes in B lymphocytes, leading to the development of the Reed-Sternberg cell and Hodgkin disease.

Normal human cells grow and function mainly based on the information contained in each cell’s chromosomes. Each cell has 23 pairs of chromosomes, which are long molecules of DNA. DNA is the chemical that makes up our genes — the instructions for how our cells function. We look like our parents because they are the source of our DNA. But DNA affects more than how we look.

Some genes contain instructions for controlling when cells grow and divide into new cells. Certain genes that help cells grow and divide or help them live longer are called oncogenes. Others that slow down cell division or cause cells to die at the right time are called tumor suppressor genes. Cancers can be caused by DNA changes that turn on oncogenes or turn off tumor suppressor genes.

Scientists have found many gene changes in Reed-Sternberg cells that help the cells to grow and divide or prevent the cells from dying when they should. Reed-Sternberg cells also make substances called cytokines, which attract many other cells into the lymph node, enlarging it. In turn, these non-cancerous cells release substances that promote growth of the Reed-Sternberg cells.

Despite these advances, scientists do not yet know what sets off these processes. An abnormal reaction to the Epstein-Barr virus or to other infections may be the trigger in some cases. But more research is needed to understand what causes Hodgkin disease.

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