Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma

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Causes, Risk Factors, and Prevention TOPICS

Can non-Hodgkin lymphoma be prevented?

Most people with non-Hodgkin lymphoma have no risk factors that can be changed, so there is no way to protect against these lymphomas. For now, the best way to reduce the risk for non-Hodgkin lymphoma is to try to prevent known risk factors such as immune deficiency.

Infection with the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) is a preventable cause of immune deficiency. HIV is spread among adults mostly through unprotected sex and by injection drug users sharing contaminated needles. Blood transfusions are now an extremely rare source of HIV infection. Curbing the spread of HIV would prevent many deaths from non-Hodgkin lymphoma. Treating HIV with anti-HIV drugs also lowers the chance of developing non-Hodgkin lymphoma.

Preventing the spread of the human T-cell leukemia/lymphoma virus (HTLV-1) could have a great impact on non-Hodgkin lymphoma in areas of the world where this virus is common, such as Japan and the Caribbean region. The virus is rare in the United States but seems to be increasing in some areas. The same strategies used to prevent HIV spread could also help control HTLV-1.

Helicobacter pylori infection has been linked to some lymphomas of the stomach. Treating H. pylori infections with antibiotics and antacids may lower this risk, but the benefit of this strategy has not been proven yet. Most people with H. pylori infection have no symptoms, and some have only mild heartburn. More research is needed to find the best way to detect and treat this infection in people without symptoms.

Another risk factor for non-Hodgkin lymphoma is infection with the Epstein-Barr virus (the cause of infectious mononucleosis, or mono), but there is no known way of preventing this infection.

Some lymphomas are caused by treatment of cancers with radiation and chemotherapy or by the use of immune-suppressing drugs to avoid rejection of transplanted organs. Doctors are trying to find better ways to treat cancer and organ transplant patients without increasing the risk of lymphoma as much. But for now, the benefits of these treatments still usually outweigh the small risk of developing lymphoma many years later.

Some studies have suggested that being overweight or obese may increase your risk of non-Hodgkin lymphoma. Other studies have suggested that a diet high in fat and meats may raise your risk. Staying at a healthy weight and eating a healthy diet may help protect against lymphoma, but more research is needed to confirm this.


Last Medical Review: 03/27/2013
Last Revised: 07/30/2014