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Open Access Methodology

Identifying related cancer types based on their incidence among people with multiple cancers

Chris D Bajdik12*, Zenaida U Abanto1, John J Spinelli12, Angela Brooks-Wilson13 and Richard P Gallagher12

Author Affiliations

1 Cancer Control Research Program, BC Cancer Research Centre, 675 West 10th Ave, Vancouver BC, Canada V5Z 1L3

2 Department of Health Care & Epidemiology, University of British Columbia, Vancouver BC, Canada

3 Canada's Michael Smith Genome Science Centre, BC Cancer Research Centre, 675 West 10th Ave, Vancouver BC, Canada V5Z 1L3

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Emerging Themes in Epidemiology 2006, 3:17  doi:10.1186/1742-7622-3-17

Published: 8 November 2006

Abstract

Background

There are several reasons that someone might be diagnosed with more than one primary cancer. The aim of this analysis was to determine combinations of cancer types that occur more often than expected. The expected values in previous analyses are based on age-and-gender-adjusted risks in the population. However, if cancer in people with multiple primaries is somehow different than cancer in people with a single primary, then the expected numbers should not be based on all diagnoses in the population.

Methods

In people with two or more cancer types, the probability that a specific type is diagnosed was determined as the number of diagnoses for that cancer type divided by the total number of cancer diagnoses. If two types of cancer occur independently of one another, then the probability that someone will develop both cancers by chance is the product of the individual probabilities for each type. The expected number of people with both cancers is the number of people at risk multiplied by the separate probabilities for each cancer. We performed the analysis on records of cancer diagnoses in British Columbia, Canada between 1970 and 2004.

Results

There were 28,159 people with records of multiple primary cancers between 1970 and 2004, including 1,492 people with between three and seven diagnoses. Among both men and women, the combinations of esophageal cancer with melanoma, and kidney cancer with oral cancer, are observed more than twice as often as expected.

Conclusion

Our analysis suggests there are several pairs of primary cancers that might be related by a shared etiological factor. We think that our method is more appropriate than others when multiple diagnoses of primary cancer are unlikely to be the result of therapeutic or diagnostic procedures.