Risk Factors for Lymphoma of the Skin

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

But having a risk factor, or even several, does not mean that a person will get the disease. And many people who get the disease may have few or no known risk factors.

While most people with lymphoma of the skin may have some factors (such as their age or gender) that make them more likely to get this disease, in most people there is no clear cause of the lymphoma.

Age

Age is an important risk factor for this disease, with most skin lymphomas occurring in people in their 50s and 60s. But some types of skin lymphoma can appear in younger people, even in children.

Gender and race

Most (but not all) types of skin lymphoma are more common in men than in women. Most also tend to be more common in African-Americans than in whites. The reasons for this are not known.

Having a weakened immune system

Skin lymphomas may be more common in people who have a weakened immune system. This includes people with acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS), as well as people who have had an organ transplant such as a heart, kidney or liver transplant, who must take drugs that suppress their immune system.

Certain infections

Infection with certain viruses or other germs has been suggested as a possible cause of some skin lymphomas.

Infection with the HTLV-1 virus has been linked with the rare adult T-cell leukemia/lymphoma, although most people infected with this virus do not develop lymphoma. This infection is most often seen in parts of Japan and the Caribbean.

Infection with Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) has been linked with some types of lymphoma, including extranodal NK/T-cell lymphoma, nasal type. But EBV infection is common, and most people infected with EBV do not go on to develop lymphoma.

In parts of Europe (but not in the United States), infection with Borrelia, the bacteria that causes Lyme disease, has also been linked with some skin lymphomas. This link has only been reported in a small number of cases—most people with skin lymphoma have not had Lyme disease, and most people with Lyme disease do not develop lymphoma of the skin.

Infection with the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), the virus that causes AIDS, may increase a person’s risk of skin lymphoma by weakening their immune system.

Some studies have suggested that infections with other viruses might also be linked with skin lymphomas, but more research is needed on this.

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.

Foss FM, Gibson JF, Edelson RL, Wilson LD. Chapter 104: Cutaneous lymphomas. 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.

Querfeld C, Rosen ST. Chapter 107: Cutaneous T-cell lymphoma and cutaneous B-cell lymphoma. In: Niederhuber JE, Armitage JO, Dorshow JH, Kastan MB, Tepper JE, eds. Abeloff’s Clinical Oncology. 5th ed. Philadelphia, Pa. Elsevier: 2014.

Last Medical Review: March 29, 2018 Last Revised: March 29, 2018

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