Chickenpox is a highly contagious disease that affects kids and makes their parents worry a lot. On the other hand, experts believe it may bestow a positive health benefit later in life, in the form of a lowered risk of developing glioma.

An international collaboration led by researchers in the Dan L Duncan Comprehensive Cancer Center at Baylor College of Medicine has reported there is an inverse relationship between a history of chicken pox and glioma, a type of brain cancer. In other words, children who have had the chicken pox may be less likely to develop brain cancer.

But this doesn’t mean parents should drop everything and start organizing chicken pox parties.

Since chickenpox in adults is usually more severe than it is in children, some parents deliberately expose their children to the virus, sometimes by taking them to “chickenpox parties.” Doctors counter that children are safer getting the vaccine, which is a weakened form of the virus, than getting the disease, which can be fatal.

The current study, led by Dr. Melissa Bondy, a McNair Scholar and associate director for cancer prevention and population sciences at Baylor, and Dr. E. Susan Amirian, assistant professor in the Duncan Cancer Center at Baylor, was one of the largest studies to date.

The study involved reviewing information from the Glioma International Case-Control Study, a large, multi-site consortium with data on 4533 cases and 4171 controls collected across five countries. The researchers found a 21 percent reduced risk of developing glioma with a positive history of chicken pox.

Furthermore, they identified the protective effective was greater in higher grade gliomas. The large study validates earlier studies showing this link, Bondy said.

“It provides more of an indication that there is some protective benefit from having the chicken pox,” she said. “The link is unlikely to be coincidental.”

In the future, scientists may be able to apply the chicken pox vaccine to brain cancer research. Gliomas make up about 30% of all brain and central nervous system tumors and 80% of all malignant brain tumors.

Amirian, E. S., Scheurer, M. E., Zhou, R., Wrensch, M. R., Armstrong, Georgina N., Lachance, D., Olson, S. H., Lau, C. C., Claus, E. B., Barnholtz-Sloan, Jill S., Il’yasova, D., Schildkraut, J., Ali-Osman, F., Sadetzki, S., Jenkins, R. B., Bernstein, J. L., Merrell, R. T., Davis, F. G., Lai, R., Shete, S., Amos, C. I., Melin, B. S. and Bondy, M. L. (2016) History of chickenpox in glioma risk: a report from the glioma international case–control study (GICC) Cancer Medicine. doi: 10.1002/cam4.682

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