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 a weakened immune system.

The most common cause of acquired immune problems is HIV infection. HIV is spread among adults mostly through unprotected sex and sharing needles contaminated by injection drug users. Children generally get HIV infection from contact with their mother’s blood, usually before or during birth. Treating the pregnant woman 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 are caused when other cancers are treated with radiation and chemotherapy or when immune-suppressing drugs are used to avoid rejection of transplanted organs. 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 diseases themselves.

Because most children 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.

Allen CE, Kamdar KY, Bollard CM, Gross TG. Malignant non-Hodgkin lymphomas in children. In: Pizzo PA, Poplack DG, eds. Principles and Practice of Pediatric Oncology. 7th ed. Philadelphia Pa: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins; 2016:587–603.

Kamdar KY, Sandlund JT, Bollard CM. Malignant lymphomas in childhood. In: Hoffman R, Benz EJ, Silberstein LE, Heslop HE, Weitz JI, Anastasi J, eds. Hematology: Basic Principles and Practice. 6th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Elsevier; 2013:1255−1266.

Rabin KR, Margolin JF, Kamdar KY, Poplack DG. Leukemias and lymphomas of childhood. In: DeVita VT, Lawrence TS, Rosenberg SA, eds. DeVita, Hellman, and Rosenberg’s Cancer: Principles and Practice of Oncology. 10th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins; 2015:1500–1510.

Last Revised: January 27, 2016

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