Background: The reported incidence of primary malignant brain tumors among children in the United States increased by 35% during the period from 1973 through 1994. The purpose of our study was twofold: 1) to determine whether the reported incidence rates for this period are better represented by a linear increase over the entire period ("linear model") or, alternatively, by a step function, with a lower rate in the years preceding 1984-1985 and a constant higher rate afterward ("jump model"); and 2) to identify the specific brain regions and histologic subtypes that have increased in incidence.
Methods: Incidence data from the Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results Program of the National Cancer Institute for the period from 1973 through 1994 for primary malignant brain tumors in children were used to model the number of cases in a year as a random variable from a Poisson distribution by use of either a linear model or a jump model.
Results/conclusions: The increase in reported incidence of childhood primary malignant brain tumors is best explained by the jump model, with a step increase in incidence occurring in the mid-1980s. The brain stem and the cerebrum are the primary sites for which an increase in tumor incidence has been reported. The increase in reported incidence of low-grade gliomas in the cerebrum and the brain stem (unaccompanied by an increase in mortality for these sites) supports the substantial contribution of low-grade gliomas to the overall increase in reported incidence for childhood brain tumors.
Implications: The significantly better fit of the data to a jump model supports the hypothesis that the observed increase in incidence somehow resulted from changes in detection and/or reporting of childhood primary malignant brain tumors during the mid-1980s.