The incidence of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma (NHL) has doubled over the past two decades in the US and most other westernized countries. While improved cancer reporting, changes in lymphoma classification, and increases in AIDS-associated lymphomas have contributed to the startling escalation of disease incidence, these factors are estimated to account for only about 50% of the increase in observed incidence. The elucidation of etiologic factors and their mechanistic role in the pathogenesis of this malignancy are critical to advancements in disease prevention and treatment. Current evidence suggests that factors/conditions that precipitate either chronic antigenic stimulation or immunosuppression may provide a preferential milieu for development of NHL. High rates of lymphoma have been observed among individuals with autoimmune disease, organ transplants, and primary or acquired immunodeficiencies. Ultraviolet radiation, previously demonstrated to have an immunosuppressive effect, has also been suggested as a possible risk factor for NHL. Several pathogens have been linked to the risk of lymphoma, including Epstein-Barr virus, human immunodeficiency virus, human T-cell lymphotropic virus-1, Helicobacter pylori, hepatitis C, and simian virus 40. Whether these microbes are responsible for specific genetic mutations that initiate tumor growth, antigenic stimulation leading to B-cell proliferation, and increased potential of random cell replication errors, or immunosuppression, which thereby promotes tumor growth, has not been clearly delineated. Other exogenous factors which have been implicated in lymphomagenesis are chemicals and agricultural exposures, hair dyes, and blood transfusions. We must build on our current knowledge regarding the etiology of NHL in order that prevention, treatment, and ultimately, cure of this malignancy becomes a reality.