Alcohol and Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma (NHL) Related to Risk

Drinking alcohol and non-Hodgkin lymphoma are linked. Strong evidence is that drinking alcohol reduces the the risk of developing the disease. (It’s also correct to call it non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.)

I. The Disease: Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma (NHL)

Non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL) is a cancer that develops in the lymphatic system. This network is to fight disease throughout the body. In NHL, cancer forms in white blood cells known as lymphocytes. Many forms of NHL exist.


alcohol and non-Hodgkin lymphoma
Lymphatic System
    • Swollen but painless lymph nodes in the neck, armpits, or groin.
    • Fatigue that continues.
    • Fever
    • Night sweats
    • Unexplained weight loss.
    • Pain or swelling in the abdomen.
    • Chest pain or problems.

A cancer is an uncontrolled growth of cells. It’s this growth that causes the lymph nodes to swell.

Risk Factors

A risk factor is anything that increases the chance of developing a disease. However, a person can have many risk factors without getting the disease. Also, a person can get the disease without having any of the risk factors.

    • Older age.
    • Certain chemicals, especially those used to kill weeds or insects.
    • Some viruses (such as HIV) and bacteria (such as H. pylori). 
    • Medications that suppress the immune system.
    • Abstaining from alcohol.

II. The Research: Alcohol and NHL

Research on drinking alcohol and non-Hodgkin lymphoma has been done for decades. And around the world.

International Study

Researchers analyzed data from nine case-control studies. They were from the US, the UK, Sweden and Italy. The studies included a total of 15,175 participants. The researchers found that men and women who drank alcohol had a much lower risk of NHL. That was in comparison with those who didn’t drink. Also current drinkers had a lower risk than did former drinkers. The protective effect of alcohol did not vary by alcoholic beverage type (beer, wine or distilled spirits).1

Large Study

Scientists used very large prospective study to examine lifestyle factors among 473,984 people. There were  285,079 men and 188,905 women. The researchers found that drinkers had a much lower risk of developing NHL. That was in comparison with non-drinkers. For example, those who drank over 28 drinks per week  had about  25% lower  risk of developing NHL. Again, that was in comparison to non-drinkers. This relationship existed for beer, wine and distilled spirits.2

US Study

Researchers made a population-based case-control study of adult men and women. They were from four  areas of the U.S. Those were Detroit, Michigan, Iowa, Los Angeles, and Seattle. The researchers found that those who drank alcohol had a much lower risk of developing NHL than did non-drinkers.3

Iowa Study

Investigators analyzed 35,156 women aged 55-69 years. They were in the Iowa Women’s Health Study. Investigators analyzed them over a nine-year period. The researchers found that alcohol consumption increased, the risk of NHL went down. That was in comparison non-drinking. They also found that the form of alcohol made no difference. Thus, beer, wine, and spirits were equally protective against the disease.4

Los Angeses County Study

Researchers made a population based case-control study of residents of Los Angeles County. They found that the risk of NHL among women decreased as alcohol consumption increased. The risk of NHL was 50% lower among those consuming five or more drinks per week. The same was true for men, but less dramatic. In both cases, that was in comparison to those who abstained from alcohol.5

International Study

Investigators made a case-control study in Spain, France, Germany, Italy, Ireland and the Czech Republic. They did so over a period of seven years. As a result, they found that drinking alcohol greatly reduced the risk of developing NHL. It did so among both men and people living in non-Mediterranean countries.6

Review of Research Study

Researchers made a meta-analysis of 29 studies that included 18,759 NHL cases plus abstainers. The overall risk of developing NHL was 15% lower for drinkers compared to non-drinkers. Light drinkers had less than one drink per day. They had a 12% lower risk. Moderate drinkers had one up to but not including four drinks per day. They had a 13% lower risk. Heavy drinkers had four or more drinks per day. They enjoyed a 16% lower risk of developing NHL. The positive effect of drinking on lowering the risk of the disease was similar for both men and women.7

Drinking alcohol appears to reduce the risk of NHL. In addition, moderate drinking is associated with better health and greater longevity than either abstaining or drinking heavily.

Moderate Drinking

Moderate drinking has been described by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA). For a man it’s having four drinks on any day and no more than 14 drinks per week. For women, it’s having three drinks in any one day and and no more than seven drinks per week.

Different countries use widely differing definitions of moderate or sensible drinking. It’s not based on science. But it’s based largely on politics or culture.

A standard alcoholic drink is a

    • alcohol and non-Hodgkin lymphoma12-ounce can or bottle of regular beer
    • Five-ounce glass of dinner wine
    • One shot (1.5 ounce) of spirits. That’s vodka, tequila, rum, gin, whiskey, etc.

Standard drinks contain the same amount of pure alcohol. That is, 0.6 or six-tenths of one ounce.

There is no evidence that any form of alcohol gives more health benefits than another. Thus beer, wine, and spirits are all equally helpful.

III. Resources: Alcohol and Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma

Web Pages



    • Alexander, D., et al. The non-Hodgkin lymphomas. Int J Can, 2007, 120(S12), 1-39.
    • Hagner, P., et al. Alcohol consumption and decreased risk of NHL. Blood, 2009, 113(22), 5526.
    • Lim, U., et al. Alcohol and body size in relation to Hodgkin’s and NHL risk. Am J Epi, 2007, 166(6), 697-708.
    • Monnerau, A., et al. Alcohol drinking, and risk of lymphoid neoplasms. Can Cause Cont, 2008, 19(10), 1147-1160.
    • Morton, L., et al. Alcohol consumption and risk of NHL. Lancet Onc, 2005, 6(7), 469-76.
    • Polesel, J., et al. Dietary folate, alcohol consumption, and risk of NHL. Nur Can, 2007, 57(2), 146-150.


    1. Morton, L., et al. Alcohol and non-Hodgkin lymphoma risk. Lancet Oncol, 2005, 6(7), 469-76.
    2. Lim, U., et al. Alcohol, smoking, and body size in relation to incident Hodgkin’s and NHL risk. Am J Epi, 2007, 166(6), 697-708.
    3. Lim, U., et al. Dietary determinants and the risk of NHL. Am J Epi, 2005, 162(10), 953-964.
    4. Chiu, B., et al. Alcohol and non-Hodgkin lymphoma in a cohort of older women. Brit J Can, 1999, 80(9), 1476-82.
    5. Nelson, R.A., et al. Alcohol, tobacco and recreational drug use and the risk of NHL. Brit J Can, 1997, 76(11), 1532-1537.
    6. Besson H., et al. Tobacco smoking, drinking alcohol and non-Hodgkin lymphoma. Int J Can, 2006, 119(4), 901-8.
    7. Tramaere, I., et al. Alcohol and non-Hodgkin lymphoma risk. Ann Oncol, 2012, 23(11), 2791-98.


This website is only for information. So it gives no advice about drinking alcohol and non-Hodgkin lymphoma. Nor on any other matter.