Seasonal variations in the diagnosis of childhood cancer in the United States

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Seasonal trends in month of diagnosis have been reported for childhood acute lymphoblastic leukaemia (ALL) and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma (NHL). This seasonal variation has been suggested to represent an underlying viral aetiology for these malignancies. Some studies have shown the highest frequency of diagnoses in the summer months, although this has been inconsistent. Data from the Children’s Cancer Group and the Pediatric Oncology Group were analysed for seasonal incidence patterns. A total of 20 949 incident cancer cases diagnosed in the USA from 1 January 1989 through 31 December 1991 were available for analyses. Diagnosis-specific malignancies available for evaluation included ALL, acute myeloid leukaemia (AML), Hodgkin’s disease, NHL, rhabdomyosarcoma, neuroblastoma, retinoblastoma, osteosarcoma, Wilms’ tumour, retinoblastoma, Ewings’ sarcoma, central nervous system (CNS) tumours and hepatoblastoma. Overall, there was no statistically significant seasonal variation in the month of diagnosis for all childhood cancers combined. For diagnosis-specific malignancies, there was a statistically significant seasonal variation for ALL (P = 0.01; peak in summer), rhabdomyosarcoma (P = 0.03; spring/summer) and hepatoblastoma (P = 0.01; summer); there was no seasonal variation in the diagnosis of NHL. When cases were restricted to latitudes greater than 40° (‘north’), seasonal patterns were apparent only for ALL and hepatoblastoma. Notably, 33% of hepatoblastoma cases were diagnosed in the summer months. In contrast, for latitudes less than 40° (‘south’), only CNS tumours demonstrated a seasonal pattern (P = 0.002; winter). Although these data provide modest support for a summer peak in the diagnosis of childhood ALL, any underlying biological mechanisms that account for these seasonal patterns are likely complex and in need of more definitive studies.

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  • 16 November 2011

    This paper was modified 12 months after initial publication to switch to Creative Commons licence terms, as noted at publication


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Correspondence to J A Ross.

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Ross, J., Severson, R., Swensen, A. et al. Seasonal variations in the diagnosis of childhood cancer in the United States. Br J Cancer 81, 549–553 (1999) doi:10.1038/sj.bjc.6690729

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  • seasonality
  • childhood cancer
  • leukaemia
  • infection

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