European Journal of Epidemiology

, Volume 28, Issue 3, pp 257–265

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

  • Peter W. G. Tennant
  • Louise Parker
  • Julian E. Thomas
  • Sir Alan W. Craft
  • Mark S. Pearce

DOI: 10.1007/s10654-013-9775-1

Cite this article as:
Tennant, P.W.G., Parker, L., Thomas, J.E. et al. Eur J Epidemiol (2013) 28: 257. doi:10.1007/s10654-013-9775-1


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 1,142 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. 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. 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. 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.


EpidemiologyCommunicable diseasesMalignancyPertussisMeasles

Supplementary material

10654_2013_9775_MOESM1_ESM.docx (17 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 17 kb)

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • Peter W. G. Tennant
    • 1
  • Louise Parker
    • 2
  • Julian E. Thomas
    • 3
  • Sir Alan W. Craft
    • 4
    • 6
  • Mark S. Pearce
    • 5
    • 6
  1. 1.Institute of Health & SocietyNewcastle UniversityNewcastle upon TyneUK
  2. 2.Departments of Medicine and PediatricsPopulation Cancer Research ProgramHalifaxCanada
  3. 3.Newcastle upon Tyne NHS Foundation Trust, Sir James Spence InstituteRoyal Victoria InfirmaryNewcastle upon TyneUK
  4. 4.Northern Institute of Cancer ResearchNewcastle UniversityNewcastle upon TyneUK
  5. 5.Institute of Health & SocietyNewcastle UniversityNewcastle upon TyneUK
  6. 6.Sir James Spence InstituteRoyal Victoria InfirmaryNewcastle upon TyneUK