Allergies Linked to Higher Blood Cancer Risks in Women

Blood cancer risks were higher in women with tree and plant allergies

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Robert Carlson, M.D Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) Living with allergies can be annoying. Now, a study has found that women with common allergies may possibly have more than itchy eyes and sneezing to worry about.

This new study showed that women with various allergies had higher risks of developing blood cancers than women without allergies.

The highest risks were seen among women who were allergic to grass, plants and trees, the researchers discovered.

Men with allergies were not found to have increased blood cancer risks.

"Talk to your pharmacist about allergy remedies."

For this study, a team of researchers led by Mazyar Shadman, MD, MPH, a senior fellow in the Clinical Research Division at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, evaluated the impact of allergies on the incidence of hematologic (blood) cancers.

Leukemia and lymphoma are the two types of blood cancers that begin in various types of blood cells. There are many different kinds of blood cancers.

Dr. Shadman and colleagues reviewed data from the VITamins And Lifestyle (VITAL) cohort study. Upon enrollment, 66,212 participants, aged 50–76 years, completed a 24-page survey relating to health history and cancer risks, medication and supplement use and diet.

These participants also reported any history of asthma and/or allergies to plants, grasses, trees, mold or dust, cats, dogs and other animals, insect bites or stings, foods and medications.

VITAL study members were followed for a median of eight years, and the researchers used Surveillance, Epidemiology and End Results (SEER) cancer registry of western Washington to track the incidence of blood cancers.

A total of 681 blood cancers were diagnosed among the VITAL study participants. While most of these cancers developed in men with a family history of blood cancers, allergies impacted cancer risks only among women.

When comparing women with allergies to those with no allergies, the researchers found the following:

  • Women who were allergic to airborne antigens (e.g., dust) had a 47 percent higher risk of blood cancers.
  • Allergies to plants, grass and trees increased blood cancer odds by 73 percent.
  • Women allergic to insect bites or stings had a 48 percent higher blood cancer risk.
  • “Other allergies” elevated the women’s chances of developing a blood cancer by 68 percent.

Allergies had the strongest association with certain kinds of mature B-cell cancers, a lymphoma that starts in B-cell lymphocytes, a type of white blood cell.

These allergy-cancer risk associations remained even after the researchers accounted for other factors that can influence risk. These factors included gender, race/ethnicity, smoking history, education, vegetable and fruit intake, exercise levels, family history of blood cancers and how an individual ranked their own health status.

“While no causality can be inferred, these results suggest a possible gender-specific role of chronic stimulation of the immune system for the development of hematologic cancers,” the authors of this study wrote.

This research was published November 22 in the American Journal of Hematology.

The National Cancer Institute sponsored the research. No conflicts of interest were reported.

Review Date: 
November 27, 2013
Last Updated:
December 30, 2013