Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma (NHL) is a type of blood cancer which begins in white blood cells called lymphocytes. Lymphocytes are part of the body’s immune system which comes in two varieties, B cells and T cells.
Both play a very important role in the immune system. B cells protect the body from foreign microbes like toxins, viruses, bacteria, while T cells destroy cells which are infected with any virus or have become cancerous.
It is more common than the other general type of lymphoma. Moreover, many different subtypes of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma also exist. However, follicular lymphoma and diffuse large B-cell lymphoma are among the most common subtypes.
Non-Hodgkin lymphoma is caused by mutations in cellular DNA which may be genetic. However, some mutations may develop during a person’s lifetime due to an external influence.
Risk factors for non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma
The exact cause of NHL still remain unknown, but the American Cancer Society finds several risk factors. These risk factors could increase your risk of getting this type of cancer;
- Age; usually, people diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma are over 60 years. But individuals of all ages develop NHL. Moreover, certain types of lymphoma are more common in younger individuals.
- Family history; there is strong evidence of a genetic predisposition to non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
- Gender; both men and women develop NHL. Overall, more men develop NHL, however certain subtypes of NHL are more common in women than men.
- Race, ethnicity, location; non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma is common in Caucasians than in African Americans and Asian Americans, at least in the U.S. The United State and Europe have the highest rates of the disease.
- Exposure to chemicals; exposure to an industrial chemical, benzene, may be associated with an increased risk of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. This is also true of some insecticides and herbicides.
- Other cancer treatments; having been treated with radiation therapy, chemotherapy, or both increases your risk of developing NHL later in life.
- Exposure to radiation; survivors of nuclear reactor accidents and atomic bombings develop cancer in higher rates, including non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
- Autoimmune diseases; celiac disease, rheumatoid arthritis, lupus and other autoimmune disorders are associated with an increased risk of NHL.
- Organ transplant; such as having a liver or kidney transplant.
- Weakened immune system; because of HIV infection, organ transplant, or an inherited syndrome which causes a weakened immune system can lead to NHL.
- Other health disorders; hepatitis C, HIV, chlamydia, herpes and Epstein-Barr virus are all associated with an increased risk of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
Reducing your risk
There have been numerous studies which propose lifestyle factors may increase an individual’s risk of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, though more study is required. These include being obese or overweight, and a diet rich in meat and saturated fats.
On the other hand, maintaining a healthy weight, exercise and a diet with plenty of fruits and vegetables may reduce your risk—and have several other benefits to overall health.
On the whole, most people with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma have no risk factors which can be changed. Whether you have a known risk factor or not, the important thing to do is consult a healthcare provider regularly so that symptoms of NHL, or any disease, can be noticed as early as possible.
Advances in diagnosis and treatment of NHL have helped improve the prognosis for individuals with this condition.