Children whose mothers suffered from an infection during pregnancy, particularly of the genital and urinary tracts, have an increased risk of developing leukemia, according to a new study published in JAMA Network Open.
- Children whose mothers have suffered from an infection have an increased risk of suffering from leukemia before the age of 15.
- The link between infection during pregnancy and leukemia is particularly important with genital and urinary tract infections.
- Further research is needed to confirm this finding.
It may be prudent to closely monitor the health of children whose mothers became infected during pregnancy. A study published in the journal JAMA Network Open on February 20, 2023, highlighted an association between this maternal disease and the development of childhood leukemia.
Link between urogenital tract infection and leukemia
The international scientific team analyzed the records of more than 2.2 million children born in Denmark between 1978 and 2015. The little participants were followed for an average of 12 years, during which time 4,362 of them were diagnosed of cancer before the age of 15. 1,307 had leukemia: 1,050 acute myeloid leukemia (AML), 192 acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) and 92 another form.
The researchers found that babies whose mothers had an infection during pregnancy had a 35% increased risk of leukemia compared to those whose mothers had not been ill.
However, this link was not visible with all disorders. If no association was observed for infections of the respiratory and digestive tracts, those of the genital and urinary systems seem to be problematic for the youngest. They were associated with a 142% and 65% increased risk of childhood leukaemia, respectively. “The sibling analysis showed comparable estimates to the entire cohort analysis. The association patterns for ALL and LAM were similar to those for any leukaemia”explain the authors in their article. “We found that urinary and genital tract infection during pregnancy was associated with a higher risk of childhood leukemia, but the associated absolute risk remained low given the rarity of childhood leukemia”they point out.
In addition, the risk of leukemia was also increased threefold in children whose mother had contracted a sexually transmitted infection during her pregnancy. However, maternal infections during pregnancy do not increase the risk of other childhood cancers, such as lymphoma or brain tumours.
Leukaemia: a step towards a better understanding
Even if leukemia is one of the most common pediatric cancers (29% of childhood cancers in France), its causes remain poorly understood. Lead author Jian-Rong He and his colleagues believe they have shed light on a possible mechanism. “The findings suggest that factors related to the immune system during pregnancy may be involved in the development of childhood leukemia”they explain.
They then go on: “Childhood leukemia may originate in the uterus, as leukemia-related chromosomal damage has been observed at birth. Previous studies have reported that cytokine levels at birth were different for healthy children compared to compared to individuals who developed leukemia in childhood.”
Nevertheless, further epidemiological work is needed to confirm these findings and investigate the underlying mechanisms of leukemia in children.
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