Childhood infectious diseases and risk of leukaemia in an adult population

Stefano Parodi, Paolo Crosignani, Lucia Miligi, Oriana Nanni, Valerio Ramazzotti, Stefania Rodella, Adele Seniori Costantini, Rosario Tumino, Carla Vindigni, Paolo Vineis, Emanuele Stagnaro

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Our study is aimed at investigating the association between common childhood infectious diseases (measles, chickenpox, rubella, mumps and pertussis) and the risk of developing leukaemia in an adult population. A reanalysis of a large population-based case-control study was carried out. Original data included 1,771 controls and 649 leukaemia cases from 11 Italian areas. To contain recall bias, the analysis was restricted to subjects directly interviewed and with a good quality interview (1,165 controls and 312 cases). Odds ratios (ORs) and their related 95% confidence intervals (95% CIs) were estimated by unconditional polychotomous logistic regression model adjusting for age, gender and occupational and lifestyle exposures. A protective effect of at least one infection (OR = 0.66, 95% CI: 0.45-0.97), measles (OR = 0.57, 95% CI: 0.39-0.82) and pertussis (OR = 0.66, 95% CI: 0.45-0.98) was observed for chronic lymphoid leukaemia (CLL). The number of infections was strongly inversely associated with the risk of CLL (p = 0.002, test for trend). With regard to the other types of leukaemia, only a protective effect of pertussis was observed for AML (OR = 0.52, 95% CI: 0.32-0.87). Our results pointed out a protective role of childhood infectious diseases on the risk of CLL in adults. Although a specific antioncogenic effect of some infectious disease, especially measles, cannot be ruled out, the observed decrease of risk with increasing number of infections suggests that a more general "hygiene hypothesis" could be the most likely explanation of the detected association. The protective role of pertussis remains to be elucidated. What's new? We know that the retrovirus HTLV-1 is associated with adult leukemia, but little is known about the impact of other infections. For example, do childhood infections affect the risk of developing leukemia in adulthood? To begin to address this question, the authors analyzed a large multi-centre, case-control study, and found that childhood infections may actually lower the risk of developing chronic lymphocytic leukaemia (CLL) as an adult. This risk also decreased further as the number of infections increased.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1892-1899
Number of pages8
JournalInternational Journal of Cancer
Issue number8
Publication statusPublished - Oct 15 2013


  • case-control study
  • infectious diseases
  • leukaemia
  • measles
  • pertussis

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cancer Research
  • Oncology


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