Hodgkin Lymphoma Risk Factors

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.

A few risk factors make a person more likely to develop Hodgkin lymphoma (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.

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


People can be diagnosed with Hodgkin lymphoma at any age, but it is most common in early adulthood (especially in a person’s 20s) and in late adulthood (after age 55).


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


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

Family history

Brothers and sisters of young people with this disease have a higher risk for Hodgkin lymphoma. The risk is very high for an identical twin of a person with Hodgkin lymphoma. But a family link is still uncommon – most people with Hodgkin lymphoma 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), because they share inherited gene changes that make them more likely to get Hodgkin lymphoma, 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.

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Shiels MS, Cole SR, Kirk GD, Poole C. A meta-analysis of the incidence of non-AIDS cancers in HIV-infected individuals. J Acquir Immune Defic Syndr. 2009;52:611−622.

Younes A, Carbone A, Johnson P, Dabaja B, Ansell S, Kuruvilla J. Chapter 102: Hodgkin’s lymphoma. 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.


Last Medical Review: February 10, 2017 Last Revised: March 28, 2017

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