• questionnaire;
  • epidemiology;
  • risk factors


To determine whether a general-purpose epidemiologic questionnaire can be used in childhood cancer hospitals to identify associations between environmental factors and the major types of childhood cancer, we report the results of the analysis of the data obtained from such a questionnaire. On admission to St. Jude Children's Research Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee, between 1979 and 1986 a questionnaire was administered to 1,270 mothers of patients diagnosed with childhood cancer. Approximately onehalf of the children had acute leukemias (n = 629); the remainder had lymphomas (n = 237) or solid tumors (n = 404). Responses to questions regarding the patients' and parents' environmental and medical histories were compared across nine diagnostic categories. Only 5 of 232 variables remained nominally statistically significant (P < 0.05) after adjusting for confounding by patient or maternal age, year of birth or diagnosis, patient's race, and social class. The variables identified were length of time the patient was breast-fed (χ2 = 16.1, P = 0.04); having a garden with fertilizers, herbicides, and pesticides (χ2 = 17.2, P = 0.03); maternal use of sex hormones during the year before the patient's birth (χ2 = 18.2, P = 0.02); maternal cigarette consumption (χ2 = 18.0, P = 0.02); and patient contact with persons with cancer (χ2 = 20.7, P = 0.01). Despite the large number of patients studied, we identified fewer significant variables than would be expected, on the average, under the null hypothesis. We conclude that the data obtained from a general-purpose epidemiologic questionnaire do not provide a useful overview of the association between exposure to environmental factors and several types of childhood cancer.