Maternal Medication Use and Childhood Cancer in Offspring-Systematic Review and Considerations for Researchers

Am J Epidemiol. 2021 Nov 2;190(11):2487-2499. doi: 10.1093/aje/kwab154.


Cancer is an important cause of childhood mortality, yet the etiology is largely unknown. A combination of pre- and postnatal factors is thought to be implicated, including maternal medication use. We aimed to provide: 1) a systematic review of peer-reviewed publications on associations between maternal medication use and childhood cancer, with a focus on study design and methodology; and 2) suggestions for how to increase transparency, limit potential biases, and improve comparability in studies on maternal medication use and childhood cancer. We conducted a systematic search in the PubMed, Embase, Scopus, Cochrane, and Web of Science databases to June 8, 2020. Altogether, 112 studies were identified. The reviewed studies were heterogeneous in study design, exposure, and outcome classification. In 21 studies (19%), the outcome was any childhood cancer. Of the 91 papers that reported on specific types of cancer, 62% did not report the cancer classification system. The most frequently investigated medication groups were sex hormones (46 studies, excluding fertility medications), and antiinfectives (37 studies). Suggestions for strengthening future pharmacoepidemiologic studies on maternal medication use and childhood cancer relate to choice of cancer classification system, exposure windows, and methods for identification of, and control for, potential confounders.

Keywords: cancer; child; delayed effects; medications; pharmacoepidemiology; prenatal exposure.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Child
  • Drug-Related Side Effects and Adverse Reactions*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Neoplasms / chemically induced*
  • Pregnancy
  • Prenatal Exposure Delayed Effects*