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. Blood transfusions are now an extremely rare source of HIV infection.

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 by the treatment of other 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 these conditions without raising the risk of lymphoma. But for now, the small risk of developing NHL several years later due to 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 master’s-prepared nurses with deep knowledge of cancer care as well as journalists, editors, and translators with extensive experience in medical writing.

Last Medical Review: March 7, 2014 Last Revised: January 27, 2016

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