Risk of infection-related cancers after the loss of a child: A follow-up study in Sweden

Fang Fang*, Katja Fall, Pär Sparén, Hans Olov Adami, Heiddis B. Valdimarsdóttir, Mats Lambe, Unnur Valdimarsdóttir

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

26 Citations (Scopus)


It is unknown whether severe emotional stress due to loss of a child influences the risk of cancers susceptible to immune modulation such as infection-related cancers. We conducted a historic cohort study in 1990 to 2004 on the basis of the Swedish Multi-Generation Register including 4,687,073 parents. Death of a child was identified through the Causes of Death Register. Poisson regression was used to derive the relative risks (RR) and 95% confidence intervals (CI) of infection-related cancers, comparing the incidence rates of parents who lost a child with those who never lost a child. A total of 101,306 parents (2%) had lost a child during follow-up, among whom 1,608 subsequently developed infection-related cancers. After adjustment for age, sex, calendar year, educational level, and civil status, the overall RR of 14 cancers studied was 1.07 (95% CI: 1.02-1.12). Parents who lost a child were particularly at a higher risk for cancers potentially associated with human papilloma virus (HPV) infection such as cervical cancer (RR: 1.46; 95% CI: 1.17-1.80). Higher RRs for most cancers were obtained within 5 years after child loss and excess risk for liver and stomach cancers was confined to that period. No association was observed for lymphoma and nonmelanoma skin cancer at any time point after child loss. Although potential confounding by unmeasured factors cannot be ruled out, our findings lend support to the hypothesis that severe life stressors, such as child loss, may raise the risk for several, chiefly HPV-related, cancers.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)116-122
Number of pages7
JournalCancer Research
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2011


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