Childhood Leukemia and Socioeconomic Status in Canada

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Leukemia is one of the most common potentially fatal illnesses in children, and its causes are not well understood. Although socioeconomic status (SES) has been related to leukemia in some studies, this apparent association may be attributable to ascertainment or participation bias. This study was undertaken to determine whether there is a difference in incidence of childhood leukemia for different levels of SES, as measured by neighborhood income, in an unselected population case group.


All cases of childhood leukemia diagnosed in the years 1985–2001 were identified from population-based cancer registries in Canada. Postal codes for the place of residence at diagnosis were used to ascertain the census neighborhoods for cases. We constructed neighborhood-based income quintiles from census population data, and stratified the population at risk by sex and 5-year age groupings. Age-standardized incidence rates and 95% confidence intervals (CIs) were calculated. We used Poisson regression to compare incidence rate ratios (RRs) across income quintiles.


A slightly lower relative risk of childhood leukemia was observed in the poorest quintile compared with the richest (RR = 0.87; 95% CI = 0.80–0.95). The lower risk in the poorest quintile was restricted to acute lymphoid leukemia (0.86; 0.78–0.95) and was strengthened slightly by restriction to urban areas (0.83; 0.74–0.93).


This analysis suggests that high SES is a true risk factor for childhood leukemia and that inconsistent results from other studies may be related to differences in case ascertainment or study participation.

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