Differential loss of humoral immunity against measles, mumps, rubella and varicella-zoster virus in children treated for cancer

Vaccine. 2014 Jun 5;32(27):3357-61. doi: 10.1016/j.vaccine.2014.04.042. Epub 2014 Apr 29.


Background: Intensive chemotherapy in children with cancer results in long-term impairment of humoral immunity. Whereas most studies to date focused on children with acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL), little data have been published on patients suffering from Hodgkin disease or from solid tumors. We therefore analyzed the loss of protective immunity (defined as immunity at the time of diagnosis and lack of immunity after completion of therapy) against vaccine-preventable diseases in children treated for various malignancies.

Methods: Children and adolescents <21 years of age at diagnosis and treated between 2001 and 2010 for various malignancies in the Department of Pediatric Hematology and Oncology, University of Frankfurt, were included in the retrospective chart review. Antibody levels against measles, mumps, rubella and varicella-zoster-virus (VZV) were routinely assessed at the time of diagnosis and within 12 months after completion of therapy.

Results: The study population consisted of 195 children (122 male); 80 patients had ALL, 15 acute myelogenous leukemia (AML), 18 non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL), 22 Hodgkin disease, and 60 various solid tumors. Overall, 27%, 47%, 19%, and 17% of the patients lost their humoral immunity against measles, mumps, rubella, and VZV, respectively. The risk of losing protective antibody titers depended on age with a higher risk in younger children. The loss of protective humoral immunity occurred significantly more often in patients with ALL compared to patients with any other underlying malignant disease (hematological malignancies such AML and NHL, Hodgkin disease or solid tumors).

Conclusions: Our data demonstrate that a significant number of children lose pre-existing humoral immunity against measles, mumps, rubella, and VZV after completion of chemotherapy. This loss occurs more often in children with ALL than in children with AML, solid tumors and Hodgkin disease. Our results underline the need for post-chemotherapy revaccination of childhood cancer survivors.

Keywords: Cancer; Child; Measles; Mumps; Rubella; Vaccination; Varicella.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Antibodies, Viral / blood*
  • Antineoplastic Agents / adverse effects*
  • Antineoplastic Agents / therapeutic use
  • Chickenpox / immunology
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Immunity, Humoral*
  • Infant
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Male
  • Measles / immunology
  • Mumps / immunology
  • Neoplasms / drug therapy
  • Neoplasms / immunology*
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Rubella / immunology
  • Young Adult


  • Antibodies, Viral
  • Antineoplastic Agents