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Maternal and childhood medical history and the risk of childhood brain tumours: a case–control study in Ontario, Canada

A Correction to this article was published on 13 September 2023

This article has been updated



Studies to date have yielded inconclusive results as to whether maternal medical history during pregnancy, and a child’s early-life medical history contribute to the development of childhood brain tumours (CBTs). This study examined associations between maternal and childhood medical history and the risk of CBTs.


The Childhood Brain Tumour Epidemiology Study of Ontario (CBREO) examined children 0–15 years of age with newly diagnosed CBTs from 1997 to 2003. Multivariable logistic regression analysis determined associations for prenatal medications and childhood medical history, adjusted for child’s demographics, and maternal education. Analyses were stratified by histology. A latency period analysis was conducted using 12- and 24-month lead times.


Maternal intake of immunosuppressants during the prenatal period was significantly associated with glial tumours (OR 2.73, 95% CI 1.17–6.39). Childhood intake of anti-epileptics was significantly associated with CBTs overall, after accounting for 12-month (OR 8.51, 95% CI 3.35–21.63) and 24-month (OR 6.04, 95% CI 2.06–17.70) lead time before diagnosis. No associations for other medications were found.


This study underscores the need to examine potential carcinogenic effects of the medication classes highlighted and of the indication of medication use. Despite possible reverse causality, increased CBT surveillance for children with epilepsy might be warranted.

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Fig. 1: Odds ratios and 95% confidence intervals for the associations between maternal medication use during pregnancy and histology* of childhood brain tumours.
Fig. 2: Childhood anti-epilepsy medications and childhood brain tumour.

Data availability

Data are available on request due to privacy/ethical restrictions.

Code availability

All statistical analyses were completed using STATA version 15.0. The code is available upon request from the corresponding author.

Change history


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This study was supported by a research grant with funds provided by the Canadian Institute of Health Research and the Canadian Cancer Society. We thank E. Badalian, H. White, J. Polzer, R. Gaudet, and W. Medved for their contributions to conducting the study interviews.



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Authors and Affiliations



RJH conceived the study and its design. JRM, MCB, JR, EB, MG and DM contributed to the data collection. SC completed the statistical analysis and drafted the manuscript with RJH and MCB. All authors contributed to study organisation and result interpretation. All authors reviewed the manuscript and approved the final version of the manuscript.

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Correspondence to Rayjean J. Hung.

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The authors declare no competing interests.

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Informed consent was obtained from all participants. The study was approved by the Mount Sinai Hospital Research Ethics Board (REB 20-0055-E).

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The original online version of this article was revised: In this article the name of Mark Greenberg has been corrected.

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Cheng, S., McLaughlin, J.R., Brown, M.C. et al. Maternal and childhood medical history and the risk of childhood brain tumours: a case–control study in Ontario, Canada. Br J Cancer 129, 318–324 (2023).

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