Objectives: Delayed exposure to common infections during childhood, have been implied to cause strong immunological response to a single infectious agent that eventually triggers leukemogenesis. The aim of the present study was to investigate whether decreased exposure to infections, as reflected in a more seronegative spectrum to several common infectious agents, is associated with increased risk for the development of childhood lymphomas.
Methods: All 125 children (up to 14 years old), with Hodgkin (HL, n = 52) and non-Hodgkin lymphomas (NHL, n = 73) diagnosed through the national network of childhood Hematology-Oncology units during an 8-year period were enrolled in the study along with 125 age- and gender-matched controls. Past exposure to nine common infections [respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), influenza A and B, parainfluenza type 1, adenovirus, Epstein-Barr virus (EBV), cytomegalovirus (CMV), human herpes virus 6 (HHV6), Bartonella henselae] was assessed using serological markers.
Results: After controlling for possible confounding factors, the overall seronegativity status upon diagnosis was statistically significantly associated with NHL [odds ratio; 95% CI: 1.45 (1.10-1.93), p = 0.01] and less so with HL risk [odds ratio; 95% CI: 1.30 (0.83-2.05), p = 0.25]. A statistically significant association of seronegativity with the development of NHL was evident for RSV [odds ratio; 95% CI: 7.27 (1.59-33.28), p = 0.01], EBV [odds ratio; 95% CI: 6.73 (1.45-31.20), p = 0.01] and suggestive association for influenza B [odds ratio; 95% CI: 2.60 (0.90-7.55), p = 0.08] and influenza A [odds ratio; 95% CI: 2.35 (0.81-6.80), p = 0.11]. In contrast, there was no evidence for association of HL with negative serology for any of the infectious agents tested.
Conclusions: The risk of lymphomas, especially NHL, might be higher when, due to lower exposure to several infectious agents, the relatively unmodulated immune system of a child is challenged by environmental stimuli that can trigger development of lymphomas. The results, however, need further confirmation, through more pertinent methodological designs.