Virginia Commonwealth University

VCU Massey Cancer Center

Causes and risk factors

What causes non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma?

The specific cause of non-Hodgki’s lymphoma is unclear. It is possible that genetics and exposure to viral infections may increase the risk for developing this malignancy. Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma also has been linked to chemotherapy and radiation therapy. Non-Hodgkin’s may be a second malignancy as a result of the treatment for certain cancers.

There has been much investigation into the association of the Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) that causes the mononucleosis infection, as well as the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), which causes acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS). Both of these infectious viruses have been linked to the development of Burkitt’s lymphoma.

The majority of Burkitt’s lymphoma cases result from a chromosome rearrangement between chromosome 8 and 14, which causes genes to change positions and function differently, promoting uncontrolled cell growth. Other chromosome rearrangements have been seen in non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma (all types) that also are thought to promote excessive cell growth.

Children and adults with other hereditary abnormalities have an increased risk of developing non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, including patients with ataxia telangiectasia, X-linked lymphoproliferative disease or Wiskott-Aldrich syndrome.