To determine the incidence and possible causes of second primary malignancies after treatment for Hodgkin's and Non-Hodgkin's lymphoma (HL and NHL). A cohort of 3764 consecutive patients diagnosed with HL or NHL between January 1970 and July 2001 was identified using the Sheffield Lymphoma Group database. A search was undertaken for all patients diagnosed with a subsequent primary malignancy. Two matched controls were identified for each case. Odds ratios were calculated to detect and quantify any risk factors in the cases compared to their matched controls. Mean follow-up for the cohort was 5.2 years. A total of 68 patients who developed second cancers at least 6 months after their primary diagnosis were identified, giving a crude incidence of 1.89% overall: 3.21% among the patients treated for HL, 1.32% in those treated for NHL. Most common were bronchial, breast, colorectal and haematological malignancies. High stage at diagnosis almost reached statistical significance in the analysis of just the NHL patients (odds ratio=3.48; P=0.068) after adjustment for other factors. Treatment modality was not statistically significant in any analysis. High stage at diagnosis of NHL may be a risk factor for developing a second primary cancer.