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Possible risk factors for non Hodgkin lymphoma

Men and women discussing non Hodgkin's lymphoma

This page is about possible risk factors for NHL. There is not enough evidence for them to be thought of as definite risk factors. We have information about these possible risk factors because we are sometimes asked about them and those that have been researched are described below

 

A quick guide to what's on this page

Possible risk factors for non Hodgkin lymphoma

These are possible risk factors for NHL. We have included information on these because we are sometimes asked about them. But we must stress that there is not enough evidence for these to be thought of as definite risk factors. They include

  • Weed killers and pesticides
  • Hair dye
  • Sunlight
  • Smoking
  • Obesity
  • Diabetes
  • Certain medicines
  • Alcohol
  • Hormones

CR PDF Icon You can view and print the quick guides for all the pages in the about NHL section.

 

 

Chemicals at work

Some studies have reported that exposure to chemicals used in agriculture may increase the risk of NHL. The chemicals include those used to kill weeds (herbicides) and insects (insecticides or pesticides). Research also suggests that farmers may have a slightly higher risk of NHL and this might be because they are exposed to these chemicals. An overview of published studies in 2007 showed an increased risk of NHL in people exposed to pesticides through their work.

Some studies have looked at the use of herbicides, insecticides and pesticides in the home. One recent study showed no increased risk with weedkiller. But the findings of this study and others are not certain because they rely on people remembering which chemicals they'd used and when. We'll need more research before we can be sure if there is, or isn't, a link.

Some studies have linked exposure to solvents to an increased risk of NHL. But, others have not. An overview of the evidence about benzene (a solvent known to cause leukaemia) showed that it can increase the risk of NHL. There is some evidence that exposure through work to trichloroethylene may also increase risk.

 

Hair dye

There is no definite evidence of a link between the use of any type of hair dye and NHL. Some studies have shown an increased risk of NHL in women who use hair dye but other studies have not. There may be a small link between hair dye use and some types of lymphoma but if there is any increase in risk, it is likely to be extremely small. Research in China and the USA is looking at whether women with certain types of gene changes may be more at risk of developing lymphoma if they use hair dyes.

There is detailed information about hair dye and cancer risk in the questions and answer section.

 

Sunlight and vitamin D

Some studies show that sunlight may lower NHL risk, but others say the opposite, and at least one shows no effect. Sunlight helps our bodies to make vitamin D, so if sunlight can protect against NHL it may be because people who've been in the sun have higher vitamin D levels in their blood. 

Some studies have looked at levels of vitamin D in the blood and diet, but so far the evidence isn't clear enough to say whether or not there is a link between vitamin D and NHL. 

So more research is needed to see if there is a link with sunlight, and if so whether it is related to vitamin D levels.

 

Smoking

Unlike for some other cancer types, smoking is not thought to have a major impact on NHL risk. Some studies have shown an increased risk of NHL in smokers, but others have found no link.

 

Obesity

Obesity doesn't appear to be linked with NHL. However, people who are severely obese might have a slightly higher risk of developing NHL, particularly diffuse large B cell lymphoma. But more research is needed to confirm this.

 

Diabetes

There is some evidence that people with type 2 diabetes may have an increased risk of NHL. However, more studies are needed to be sure.

 

Medicines

Some, but not all studies have found a link between antibiotic use and NHL. One large study showed that people who had taken more antibiotics during adult life had an increased risk of NHL. But we don't know if this was to do with the antibiotics, or with the illnesses they were treating. 

Other studies have shown that people who take statins might have a lower risk of NHL. Statins are the drugs to stop blood clots that doctors sometimes give to lower the risk (or after effects) of heart attacks or strokes.

 

Alcohol

Some studies suggest that alcohol can lower the risk of NHL. But the picture isn't completely clear. More research is needed to find out if the type and amount of alcohol people drink affects whether or not the risk of NHL is reduced, and by how much.

 

Hormones

Studies suggest that factors that affect a woman’s hormone levels may affect NHL risk. Some studies have shown that women who have a higher number of pregnancies have a reduced risk of NHL, but other studies do not show a link. A reduced risk of NHL has also been shown in studies for women who are taking, or have taken, oral contraceptives. But again, other studies have not found this. 

A recent study showed a reduction in risk of NHL for women who have taken hormone replacement therapy (HRT) for five years or longer. However, some earlier studies did not show an effect of HRT use on NHL risk, while one study even showed an increase in risk. Overall, findings of studies into hormonal factors and NHL risk are still unclear and we cannot be sure about the effect on risk, if any.

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Updated: 29 July 2013