Mumps and ovarian cancer: modern interpretation of an historic association

Posted:06/25/10

BACKGROUND: Epidemiologic studies found childhood mumps might protect against ovarian cancer. To explain this association, we investigated whether mumps might engender immunity to ovarian cancer through antibodies against the cancer-associated antigen MUC1 abnormally expressed in the inflamed parotid gland.

METHODS: Through various health agencies, we obtained sera from 161 cases with mumps parotitis. Sera were obtained from 194 healthy controls. We used an ELISA to measure anti-MUC1 antibodies and electro-chemiluminescence assays to measure MUC1 and CA 125. Log-transformed measurements were analyzed by t-tests, generalized linear models, and Pearson or Spearman correlations. We also conducted a meta-analysis of all published studies regarding mumps and ovarian cancer.

RESULTS: Adjusting for assay batch, age, and sex, the level of anti-MUC1 antibodies was significantly higher in mumps cases compared to controls (p = 0.002). Free circulating levels of CA 125, but not MUC1, were also higher in cases (p = 0.02). From the meta-analysis, the pooled odds ratio estimate (and 95% CI) for the mumps and ovarian cancer association was 0.81 (0.68-0.96) (p = 0.01).

CONCLUSION: Mumps parotitis may lead to expression and immune recognition of a tumor-associated form of MUC1 and create effective immune surveillance of ovarian cancer cells that express this form of MUC1.

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