December 7, 2023

Risk factors for childhood brain tumours: A systematic review and meta-analysis of observational studies from 1976 to 2022

F M Onyije et al, Risk factors for childhood brain tumours: A systematic review and meta-analysis of observational studies from 1976 to 2022, Cancer Epidemiology.


Background: Childhood brain tumours (CBTs) are the leading cause of cancer death in children under the age of 20 years globally. Though the aetiology of CBT remains poorly understood, it is thought to be multifactorial. We aimed to synthesize potential risk factors for CBT to inform primary prevention.

Methods: We conducted a systematic review and meta-analysis of epidemiological studies indexed in the PubMed, Web of Science, and Embase databases from the start of those resources through 27 July 2023. We included data from case-control or cohort studies that reported effect estimates for each risk factor around the time of conception, during pregnancy and/or during post-natal period. Random effects meta-analysis was used to estimate summary effect sizes (ES) and 95% confidence intervals (CIs). We also quantified heterogeneity (I2) across studies.

Findings: A total of 4040 studies were identified, of which 181 studies (85 case-control and 96 cohort studies) met our criteria for inclusion. Of all eligible studies, 50% (n = 91) were conducted in Europe, 32% (n = 57) in North America, 9% (n = 16) in Australia, 8% (n = 15) in Asia, 1% (n = 2) in South America, and none in Africa. We found associations for some modifiable risk factors including childhood domestic exposures to insecticides (ES 1.44, 95% CI 1.20-1.73) and herbicides (ES 2.38, 95% CI 1.31-4.33). Maternal domestic exposure to insecticides (ES 1.45, 95% CI 1.09-1.94), maternal consumption of cured meat (ES 1.51, 95% CI 1.05-2.17) and coffee ≥ 2 cups/day (ES 1.45, 95% 95% CI 1.07-1.95) during pregnancy, and maternal exposure to benzene (ES 2.22; 95% CI 1.01-4.88) before conception were associated with CBTs in case-control studies. Also, paternal occupational exposure to pesticides (ES 1.48, 95% CI 1.23-1.77) and benzene (ES 1.74, 95% CI 1.10-2.76) before conception and during pregnancy were associated in case-control studies and in combined analysis. On the other hand, assisted reproductive technology (ART) (ES 1.32, 95% CI 1.05-1.67), caesarean section (CS) (ES 1.12, 95% CI 1.01-1.25), paternal occupational exposure to paint before conception (ES 1.56, 95% CI 1.02-2.40) and maternal smoking > 10 cigarettes per day during pregnancy (ES 1.18, 95% CI 1.00-1.40) were associated with CBT in cohort studies. Maternal intake of vitamins and folic acid during pregnancy was inversely associated in cohort studies. Hormonal/infertility treatment, breastfeeding, child day-care attendance, maternal exposure to electric heated waterbed, tea and alcohol consumption during pregnancy were among those not associated with CBT in both case-control and cohort studies.

Conclusion: Our results should be interpreted with caution, especially as most associations between risk factors and CBT were discordant between cohort and case-control studies. At present, it is premature for any CBT to define specific primary prevention guidelines.

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