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Long-term risk of infections after treatment of childhood leukemia: a population-based cohort study using administrative health data


Purpose — Infections are a frequent complication during childhood leukemia treatment. Little is known about the infectious risk in survivors. We compared the relative rate (RR) of infections after treatment completion between pediatric leukemia survivors and the general population.

Methods — We performed a retrospective, population-based cohort study of children diagnosed with leukemia between 1992 and 2015 in Ontario, Canada, who were alive and relapse free 30 days after treatment completion (index date). Leukemia survivors were matched 5:1 with the general population by year of birth, sex, and rural status and stratified by initial treatment, including and excluding hematopoietic stem-cell transplantation (HSCT). The primary outcome was time to infections, as identified using validated diagnostic codes from administrative databases. Individuals were censored at the earliest of death, first relapse, loss to follow-up, or end of study.

Results — A total of 2,204 leukemia survivors were included and matched with 11,020 controls. The rate of infections was elevated after treatment completion compared with controls (RR, 1.51; 95% CI, 1.45 to 1.57) and at less than 1 year (RR, 1.77; 95% CI, 1.69 to 1.86); 1 to 4.99 years (RR, 1.66; 95% CI, 1.62 to 1.71), and 5 or more years (RR, 1.29; 95% CI, 1.22 to 1.36) from the index date. Among those whose initial treatment excluded HSCT, the rate remained elevated more than 5 years from the index date (RR, 1.29; 95% CI, 1.23 to 1.35). Infection-related death was significantly increased in leukemia survivors both among the entire cohort (hazard ratio, 149.3; 95% CI, 20.4 to 1,091.9) and among those without HSCT (hazard ratio, 92.7; 95% CI, 12.4 to 690.7).

Conclusion — A significant association was found between a history of leukemia therapy and an increased risk of infections. Additional study is needed to establish which exposures in patients with leukemia lead to late infections.



Pelland-Marcotte MC, Pole JD, Hwee J, Sutradhar R, Science M, Nathan PC, Sung L. J Clin Oncol. 2019; 37(29):2651-60. Epub 2019 Aug 8.

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