Clinical Oncology/Epidemiology

Space-time clustering of childhood leukaemia in Greece: evidence supporting a viral aetiology

Abstract

The method introduced by Knox for evaluation of space-time clustering has been applied to 872 cases of childhood (0-14 year old) leukaemia diagnosed in Greece over the 10 year period 1980-89. Greek towns are characterised by substantial population mixing due to internal migration, whereas there is relative isolation in mountainous rural areas. Predetermined space (5 km) and time (1 year) limits were used on the basis of previous reports in order to define the clustering cell. There is highly significant evidence for clustering of childhood leukaemia in Greece as a whole, the observed number of pairs that are close in both spaces and time exceeding the expected number by 5.2% (P = 0.004). The excess is particularly evident for leukaemia cases in 0 to 4-year-old children, among whom the observed number of pairs that are close in both space and time exceeded the expected number by 9.4% (P = 0.004). There is no evidence of space-time clustering for leukaemia cases older than 5 years. The overall pattern is descriptively similar in urban and semiurban areas and is especially marked for acute lymphoblastic leukaemia at the childhood peak ages (2-4 years) with an excess of 19% (P = 0.0006). In the rural population there is evidence for clustering of cases belonging to older and broader age groups, a phenomenon compatible with a delay in the development of herd immunity against putative infectious aetiological agents. The findings of the present study provide support for the hypothesis that a substantial proportion of cases of childhood leukaemia may arise as a rare sequel to exposure to an agent or agents, most probably viral in nature.

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Petridou, E., Revinthi, K., Alexander, F. et al. Space-time clustering of childhood leukaemia in Greece: evidence supporting a viral aetiology. Br J Cancer 73, 1278–1283 (1996). https://doi.org/10.1038/bjc.1996.245

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