The epidemiology of non-Hodgkin lymphoma

Pathology. 2005 Dec;37(6):409-19. doi: 10.1080/00313020500370192.


Non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL) includes a group of more than 20 different malignant lymphoproliferative diseases that originate from lymphocytes. Rates of NHL have increased dramatically over the past few decades, although the rate of increase has recently slowed. It is now the sixth most common cancer in Australia. Globally, it is somewhat more common in men than in women, and rates are highest in North America and Australia. The causes of the increase in NHL rates are largely unknown. The best described risk factor for NHL is immune deficiency; rates of NHL are greatly increased, with relative risks of 10-100 or more, in people with immune deficiency associated with immune suppressive therapy after transplantation, HIV/AIDS, and congenital conditions. In addition, some NHL subtypes are associated with specific infections. These include immune-deficiency-associated central nervous system NHL (Epstein-Barr virus); gastric mucosa-associated lymphoid tissue NHL (Helicobacter pylori); adult T-cell leukemia/lymphoma (human T-lymphotrophic virus type 1) and body cavity-based lymphoma (human herpesvirus 8). However, these specific infections account for a very small proportion of total NHL incidence. In addition to immune deficiency and infection, other immune-related conditions are increasingly being recognised as related to NHL risk. Specific autoimmune conditions, including rheumatoid arthritis, systemic lupus erythema, Sjogren's syndrome, psoriasis and coeliac disease are associated with moderately increased risk of NHL. On the other hand, allergic and atopic conditions and their correlates such as early birth order, appear to be associated with a decreased risk of NHL.A variety of other exposures are less strongly related to NHL risk. These include occupational exposures, including some pesticides, herbicides, and solvents. Recently, two studies have reported that sun exposure is associated with a decreased risk of NHL. Smoking appears to be weakly positively associated with risk of follicular NHL, and alcohol intake is associated with a decreased risk of NHL. The pooled analysis of several case-control studies of NHL risk that are currently in the field promises to help clarify which of these risk factors are real, and will contribute to the elucidation of the mechanisms of how disorders of the immune system, and other factors, are related to NHL risk.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Australia / epidemiology
  • Female
  • Global Health
  • Humans
  • Lymphoma, Non-Hodgkin / epidemiology*
  • Lymphoma, Non-Hodgkin / etiology
  • Male
  • Risk Factors