What Are the Risk Factors for Hodgkin Disease?

A risk factor is anything that affects your chance of getting a disease such as cancer. Different cancers have different risk factors. Some cancer risk factors, like smoking, can be changed. Others, like a person’s age or family history, can’t be changed.

Scientists have found a few risk factors that make a person more likely to develop Hodgkin disease (although it’s not always clear why these factors increase risk). But having a risk factor, or even several, does not mean that you will definitely get the disease. And many people who get the disease may have few or no known risk factors. Even if a person with Hodgkin disease has one or more risk factors, it is often very hard to know how much these factors might have contributed to the lymphoma.

Epstein-Barr virus infection/mononucleosis

People who have had infectious mononucleosis (sometimes called mono for short), an infection caused by the Epstein-Barr virus (EBV), have an increased risk of Hodgkin disease. Although the risk is higher than for people who have not had mono, the overall risk is still very small.

The exact role of EBV in the development of Hodgkin disease is not clear. Many people are infected with EBV, but very few develop Hodgkin disease. Parts of the virus are found in Reed-Sternberg cells in about 1 out of 3 patients with Hodgkin disease. But the other people with Hodgkin disease have no signs of EBV in their cancer cells.


People of any age can be diagnosed with Hodgkin disease, but it is most common in early adulthood (ages 15 to 40, especially in a person’s 20s) and in late adulthood (after age 55).


Hodgkin disease occurs slightly more often in males than in females.


Hodgkin disease is most common in the United States, Canada, and northern Europe, and is least common in Asian countries.

Family history

Brothers and sisters of young people with this disease have a higher risk for Hodgkin disease. The risk is very high for an identical twin of a person with Hodgkin disease. But a family link is still uncommon – most people with Hodgkin disease do not have a family history of it.

It’s not clear why family history might increase risk. It might be because family members have similar childhood exposures to certain infections (such as Epstein-Barr virus), inherited gene changes that make them more likely to get Hodgkin disease, or some combination of these factors.

Socioeconomic status

The risk of Hodgkin disease is greater in people with a higher socioeconomic background. The reason for this is not clear. One theory is that children from more affluent families might be exposed to some type of infection (such as Epstein-Barr virus) later in life than children from less affluent families, which might somehow increase their risk.

HIV infection

The risk of Hodgkin disease is increased in people infected with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.

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: July 10, 2014 Last Revised: May 23, 2016

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