A high prevalence of hepatitis C virus (HCV) infection in patients with B-cell non-Hodgkin's lymphoma (B-NHL) has been reported in some, but not all, studies, and the association showed a strong regional variation. We conducted a systematic review of the prevalence of HCV infection in case series of B-NHL and, when an appropriate control group was available, of the odds ratio of B-NHL associated with HCV infection. A high HCV prevalence in B-NHL was found in southern and eastern Europe, Japan and the southern United States, but not in central and northern Europe, Canada, northern United States, or a few Asian countries. Possible sources of heterogeneity and bias are discussed. The odds ratio of B-NHL for HCV infection was relatively weak, ranging from 2 to 4 in most studies. Thus, even if the observed association were causal, the percentage of cases of B-NHL attributable to HCV infection would be relatively low (10%) also in countries with a high prevalence of HCV infection in the general population, and extremely low in other countries. This may explain apparent inconsistencies between studies. Potential mechanisms of action are also discussed. © 2004 Wiley-Liss, Inc.