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Mumps and ovarian cancer: modern interpretation of an historic association



Epidemiologic studies found childhood mumps might protect against ovarian cancer. To explain this association, we investigated whether mumps might engender immunity to ovarian cancer through antibodies against the cancer-associated antigen MUC1 abnormally expressed in the inflamed parotid gland.


Through various health agencies, we obtained sera from 161 cases with mumps parotitis. Sera were obtained from 194 healthy controls. We used an ELISA to measure anti-MUC1 antibodies and electro-chemiluminescence assays to measure MUC1 and CA 125. Log-transformed measurements were analyzed by t-tests, generalized linear models, and Pearson or Spearman correlations. We also conducted a meta-analysis of all published studies regarding mumps and ovarian cancer.


Adjusting for assay batch, age, and sex, the level of anti-MUC1 antibodies was significantly higher in mumps cases compared to controls (p = 0.002). Free circulating levels of CA 125, but not MUC1, were also higher in cases (p = 0.02). From the meta-analysis, the pooled odds ratio estimate (and 95% CI) for the mumps and ovarian cancer association was 0.81 (0.68–0.96) (p = 0.01).


Mumps parotitis may lead to expression and immune recognition of a tumor-associated form of MUC1 and create effective immune surveillance of ovarian cancer cells that express this form of MUC1.

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We thank Claudia Krause, Bernard Johnson, and Michael Trythall for helping us assemble the specimen sets and for their thoughtful comments on the manuscript and Huaiping Yan and Vanessa Tang-Fernandez for laboratory assistance. Grants: US Department of Defense #W81XWH-07-1-0292 and NIH Grant R01CA123170.

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Correspondence to Daniel W. Cramer.

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Cramer, D.W., Vitonis, A.F., Pinheiro, S.P. et al. Mumps and ovarian cancer: modern interpretation of an historic association. Cancer Causes Control 21, 1193–1201 (2010).

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  • Ovarian cancer
  • Mumps parotitis
  • MUC1
  • CA125