What causes lymphoma is fundamentally the same question as 'what causes cancer?' and the answer is equally as elusive. If someone tells you that they can say with certainty what causes lymphoma in a particular person, you're best off ignoring everything else they have to say because, quite simply, nobody knows.
However, some risk factors have been identified.
Cell Mutations and the origins of cancer
Whatever the cause of a certain case of lymphoma, we know this much: at some point in the past, a lymphocyte in the body underwent cell division. During this process, a mistake was made in creating an exact copy of the cell. Normally a cell does not survive this mutation, but sometimes it does. It then must successfully dodge a number of built-in safety features within the cell that do are designed to prevent mutations from proliferating.
In lymphoma, the mutation survives and no longer works like a normal human cell. Normal human cells divide frequently, then they undergo a programmed death and are excreted from the body. Mutated cells, however, do not undergo this death. Instead they proliferate and divide chaotically.
These cells collect and become tumors , and tumors begin to rob the body of nutrients it needs to survive so that the tumor can use these resources for itself. This is a very basic explanation of the origins of cancer. The cause for that mutation is unknown. It may have a trigger, it may happen on its own.
What Causes Lymphoma: Environmental Exposure
There is some relatively strong evidence that points towards environmental and occupational exposures to certain chemicals that may be precursors for some subtypes of lymphoma (for a reasonable rundown of some of these substances, see Environmental and Occupational Links with Lymphoma). However, since the correlation is not absolute—nor has the mechanism ever actually been witnessed—it is impossible to say for sure that these chemicals can cause lymphoma.
This isn't meant to sow doubt in epidemiological studies. It merely points out that in some cases there is evidence linking some chemicals to lymphoma. But this evidence does not always link lymphoma to a given amount of chemical exposure.
What Causes Lymphoma: Auto-Immune Disorders
Evidence suggests that people who suffer from certain auto-immune disorders—meaning disorders in which the body's immune system attacks parts of its own body—may be at a higher risk of developing some lymphomas than people who do not suffer from these disorders. They include but are not limited to:
- - Sorgen's Syndrome
- - Rheumatoid arthritis
- - Lupus
This does not mean that having one disorder means that lymphoma is imminent. Absolutely not. It merely means that researchers have found slightly higher incidences of some lymphomas in some people with these disorders compared with people who do not have these disorders.
What Causes Lymphoma: Some Prescription Medications
Recently it has come to the attention of the US Food and Drug Administration that some prescription drugs—namely drugs known as TNF Blockers—are the likely culprits in causing a very rare lymphoma to develop in a small percentage of people taking them. You can read more about that HERE.
What Causes Lymphoma: Cancer Treatments
Unfortunately, sometimes lymphomas are caused by cancer chemotherapy or radiation treatments received a decade or longer prior to diagnosis with lymphoma. Again, one can't be certain that the treatment caused this lymphoma—known as secondary leukemia—but many scientists suspect it in certain cases.
What Causes Lymphoma Conclusion
There are many other possible causes of lymphoma, too many to try and itemize here. While it is important for us to find the cause of lymphomas so that we can begin a campaign of prevention, it is also important for patients and loved ones to worry less about how they got the disease, since they most likely will not find the answer, and be more concerned with treatment and wellness and beating lymphoma, regardless of how they got it.