Allergies and risk of head and neck cancer

Dominique S. Michaud, Scott M. Langevin, Melissa Eliot, Heather H. Nelson, Michael D. McClean, Brock C. Christensen, Carmen J. Marsit, Karl T. Kelsey

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

17 Scopus citations


Background Individuals with allergies have a heightened Th2 (T helper 2) immunity, which may provide advantages in controlling tumor growth. Inverse associations have been reported among individuals with allergies and risk of brain and pancreatic cancers. Methods We examined the relationship between allergies and risk of head and neck squamous cell carcinoma (HNSCC) in a population-based case-control study with 1,014 cases and 1,193 frequency-matched controls. Logistic regression models were used to estimate odds ratios (OR) and 95 % confidence intervals (95 % CI) controlling for age, sex, race, smoking history, alcohol consumption, and education. In addition, in a subset of the population, models were adjusted for HPV16 status. Results Individuals with allergies had a 19 % lower risk of HNSCC (OR = 0.81, 95 % CI = 0.67-0.98). Associations with allergies were stronger for laryngeal (OR = 0.66, 95 % CI = 0.45-0.97) and oropharyngeal (OR = 0.73, 95 % CI = 0.57-0.92) cancers, while no association was observed for oral cavity cancers (OR = 0.98, 95 % CI = 0.76-1.26). History of asthma was not associated with overall HNSCC, but the association was statistically significant for oropharyngeal cancer (OR = 0.67, 95 % CI = 0.44-0.99). HPV16 status did not confound or modify the associations with allergies. Conclusions Elevated Th2 immunity in individuals with history of allergies and asthma may reduce the risk of HNSCC. Additional research into related mechanisms may provide new insights into how to treat HNSCC. Impact These findings may provide new insight into biological pathways that could lead to a better understanding of the etiology of this disease.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1317-1322
Number of pages6
JournalCancer Causes and Control
Issue number8
StatePublished - Aug 2012


  • Allergies
  • Atopy
  • Head and neck cancer


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