Introduction With economic development, non-communicable diseases replace infectious diseases as the leading cause of death; how such transition occurs for infectious diseases with long latency has rarely been considered. We took advantage of a Chinese population with rapid economic development in the mid-20th century to study changing patterns of infection-related cancers.
Methods We used sex-specific Poisson regression to estimate age, period and cohort effects on adult deaths 1976–2005 from eight infection-related cancers in Hong Kong. We also considered two cancers (colorectal and lung) not likely related to infections.
Results Cervical, head and neck, and esophageal cancers, associated with sexually transmitted infections, decreased for the first birth cohorts with sexual debut in a more developed environment. Leukaemia and non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, associated with vertically transmitted infections, decreased for the first cohorts born into a more developed environment. Birth cohort patterns were less clearly related to environmental changes for nasopharyngeal, stomach and liver cancers. Non-infection related cancers had generally different birth cohort effects.
Conclusion Mortality rates for cancers related to early life infections may depend on the population history. Rapid economic development may leave behind residual reservoirs of latent infections that may prohibit equally rapid reductions in some infection-related cancers.
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