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Childhood infectious disease and premature death from cancer: a prospective cohort study

Lookup NU author(s): Peter Tennant, Professor Louise Parker, Dr Julian Thomas, Emeritus Professor Alan Craft, Professor Mark PearceORCiD


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Background: Studies of the association between early life infections and cancer have produced inconsistent findings, possibly due to limited adjustment for confounding and retrospective designs. This study utilised data from the Newcastle Thousand Families Study, a prospective cohort of 1142 individuals born in Newcastle-upon-Tyne in 1947, to assess the impact of various childhood infectious diseases on cancer mortality during ages 15-60 years. Methods: Detailed information was collected prospectively on a number of early life factors. Deaths from cancer during ages 15-60 years were analysed in relation to childhood infections, adjusting for potential early-life confounders, using Cox proportional-hazards regression. In a subsample who returned questionnaires at aged 49-51 years, additional adjustment was made for adult factors to predict death from cancer during ages 50-60 years. Results: Childhood history of measles and influenza, were both independently associated with lower cancer mortality during ages 15-60 years (adjusted hazard ratios=0.39, 95% CI: 0.17-0.88 and 0.49, 95% CI: 0.24-0.98 respectively). In contrast, childhood pertussis was associated with higher cancer mortality during ages 15-60 years (adjusted hazard ratio=4.88, 95% CI: 2.29-10.38). In the subsample with additional adjustment for adult variables, measles and pertussis remained significantly associated with cancer mortality during ages 50-60 years. Conclusion: In this pre-vaccination cohort, childhood infection with measles and influenza were associated with a reduced risk of death from cancer in adulthood, while pertussis was associated with an increased risk. While these results suggest some disease-specific associations between early-life infections and cancer, further studies are required to confirm the specific associations identified.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Tennant PWG, Parker L, Thomas JE, Craft AW, Pearce MS

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: European Journal of Epidemiology

Year: 2013

Volume: 28

Issue: 3

Pages: 257-265

Publisher: Springer


DOI: 10.1007/s10654-013-9775-1


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