Early life infections: pathways to prevent adult cancers?

This INSPIRE project is investigating whether severe acute infections early in life are linked to risk of cancer in early adulthood.

  • Topic: Combination of cancers
  • Institution: Bispebjerg and Frederiksberg Hospital
  • Country: Denmark
  • Status: Ongoing
Researcher: Julie Aarestrup

INSPIRE grant title: Early life infections: pathways to prevent adulthood cancers?

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With the support from World Cancer Research Fund/Wereld Kanker Onderzoek Fonds, I am looking forward to investigating the overlooked links between early life infections and adult cancer risk using unique Danish data resources. This novel research project will yield insights into whether severe acute infections early in life may protect against development of cancer in adulthood. – Dr Julie Aarestrup


Infections play a paradoxical role in the development of cancer; while many chronic infections (long-term infections such as AIDS or chronic hepatitis) promote cancer risk, acute infections (short-term illnesses like the flu or respiratory infections) may actually help fight against cancer. Although this inverse relationship between acute infections and cancer has been known for many decades, it is often overlooked, most likely because previous studies had substantial methodological limitations.


This research plans to overcome these methodological limitations by using a longitudinal design. This will include 69,706 children born between 1977 and 1996 from a population-based Copenhagen School Health Records Register. We will follow the children from birth and link them on an individual basis with national registers that include information on hospitalisations and cancer diagnoses, both of which are mandatory to report in Denmark. We will also collect information on childhood body size from the health records and on parental socio-economic status from national registers.


  • Severe acute infections in early life are associated with a lower risk of cancer in early adulthood and these associations depend on infection type, location, timing, frequency and cancer subtype.
  • Childhood body size and socio-economic status impact these associations in a complex manner.


  • Investigate if severe acute infections early in life are linked to risk of cancer in early adulthood.
  • Identify whether these associations differ by infection type, location, timing and frequency as well as by cancer subtypes.
  • Examine the impact of childhood body mass index and parental socio-economic status on these associations.


The findings may influence cancer prevention policies as novel insights will be gained on which groups of children may be most at risk. This knowledge can inform clinical practice, potentially through re-evaluating the treatment course for infections.

Additionally, by understanding whether childhood body size and parental socio-economic status impact these associations will help further understand the potential early origins of cancer.