Does a family history of non-Hodgkin lymphoma put me at greater risk?

7:25 PM, Nov 15, 2011   |    comments
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By Kay Quinn Healthbeat Reporter

St. Louis (KSDK) - More than 66,000 people will be diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma this year alone.

On this week's "8 Ways to Prevent cancer" segment, a viewer whose father and brother died of the disease wants to know if she's at increased risk.

Non-Hodgkin lymphoma, or NHL for short, is actually a large group of about 30 diseases. And as it turns out, if you have a close family member who's had it, your risk of getting NHL is probably two times higher than someone without a family history.

"But it's important to remember that the risk for lymphoma is relatively low so that they estimate about two percent of all people will develop lymphoma during their lifetime, so if you double that risk it's still only a four percent lifetime risk of lymphoma," said Dr. Nancy Bartlett with the Siteman Cancer Center.

Here's another way to look at it. That four percent risk, while not zero, is still lower than many other cancers.

"Breast cancer where your risk over your lifetime is about 12 percent for any woman, prostate cancer in a man 15 percent, so even doubling the risk of having lymphoma is still a small risk compared to much more common types of cancer," said Dr. Bartlett.

Researchers are working on learning more about NHL, including trying to find the gene that may link cases in families. In the meantime, know your family history and talk with your doctor if you're concerned.

"Even if you know that you're at slightly increased risk of lymphoma compared to someone else, there aren't any tests that you need to ask your doctor to do, no x-rays or blood tests," said Dr. Bartlett.



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