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Open Access Research article

Birth characteristics and the risk of childhood leukaemias and lymphomas in New Zealand: a case-control study

Donny IM Wong and John D Dockerty*

Author Affiliations

Department of Preventive and Social Medicine, University of Otago, Dunedin, New Zealand

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BMC Blood Disorders 2006, 6:5  doi:10.1186/1471-2326-6-5

Published: 14 September 2006

Abstract

Background

Some studies have found that lower parity and higher or lower social class (depending on the study) are associated with increased risks of childhood acute lymphoblastic leukaemia (ALL). Such findings have led to suggestions that infection could play a role in the causation of this disease. An earlier New Zealand study found a protective effect of parental marriage on the risk of childhood ALL, and studies elsewhere have reported increased risks in relation to older parental ages. This study aimed to assess whether lower parity, lower social class, unmarried status and older parental ages increase the risk of childhood ALL (primarily). These variables were also assessed in relation to the risks of childhood acute non-lymphoblastic leukaemia, non-Hodgkin's lymphomas and Hodgkin's disease.

Methods

A case control study was conducted. The cases were 585 children diagnosed with leukaemias or lymphomas throughout New Zealand over a 12 year period. The 585 age and sex matched controls were selected at random from birth records. Birth records from cases (via cancer registration record linkage) and from controls provided accurate data on maternal parity, social class derived from paternal occupation, maternal marital status, ages of both parents, and urban status based on the address on the birth certificate. Analysis was by conditional logistic regression.

Results

There were no statistically significant associations overall between childhood ALL and parity of the mother, social class, unmarried maternal status, increasing parental ages (continuous analysis), or urban status. We also found no statistically significant associations between the risks of childhood acute non-lymphoblastic leukaemia, non-Hodgkin lymphomas, or Hodgkin's disease and the variables studied.

Conclusion

This study showed no positive results though of reasonable size, and its record linkage design minimised bias. Descriptive studies (eg of time trends of ALL) show that environmental factors must be important for some diagnoses. Work has been done on the risk of ALL in relation to chemicals (eg pesticides) and drugs, dietary factors (eg vitamins), electromagnetic fields and infectious hypotheses (to name some); but whether these or other unknown factors are truly important remains to be seen.