Can Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma in Children Be Prevented?

The risk of many adult cancers can be reduced by doing certain things such as staying at a healthy weight or quitting smoking, but there is no known way to prevent most childhood cancers.

Most children (and adults) with non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL) have no risk factors that can be changed, so at this time there is no way to prevent these lymphomas. For now, the best way to reduce the risk for NHL is to try to prevent known risk factors such as having a weakened immune system.

The most common cause of acquired immune system problems is HIV infection. HIV is spread among adults mostly through unprotected sex and sharing contaminated needles. Children generally get HIV infection from contact with their mother’s blood, usually before or during birth. Treating a pregnant woman who is HIV-positive with anti-HIV drugs can greatly reduce the risk of infecting her infant. HIV can also be passed on in breast milk, so HIV-positive mothers are advised not to breastfeed.

Some cases of NHL result from children being given immune-suppressing drugs to avoid rejection of transplanted organs, or from children getting chemotherapy or radiation to treat another type of cancer. Doctors are trying to find better ways to treat these conditions without raising the risk of lymphoma. But for now, the small risk of developing NHL several years later because of treatment must be balanced against the risks of these life-threatening conditions themselves.

Because most children and teens with NHL do not have known risk factors that can be changed, it’s important to note that there is nothing these children or their parents could have done to prevent this cancer.

The American Cancer Society medical and editorial content team

Our team is made up of doctors and oncology certified nurses with deep knowledge of cancer care as well as journalists, editors, and translators with extensive experience in medical writing.

Gross TG, Kamdar KY, Bollard CM. Chapter 19: Malignant Non–Hodgkin Lymphomas in Children. In: Blaney SM, Adamson PC, Helman LJ, eds. Pizzo and Poplack’s Principles and Practice of Pediatric Oncology. 8th ed. Philadelphia Pa: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins; 2021.

Sandlund JT, Onciu M. Chapter 94: Childhood Lymphoma. In: Niederhuber JE, Armitage JO, Doroshow JH, Kastan MB, Tepper JE, eds. Abeloff’s Clinical Oncology. 6th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Elsevier; 2020.

Termuhlen AM, Gross TG. Overview of non-Hodgkin lymphoma in children and adolescents. UpToDate. 2021. Accessed at https://www.uptodate.com/contents/overview-of-non-hodgkin-lymphoma-in-children-and-adolescents on June 10, 2021.

Last Revised: August 10, 2021

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