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Health Place. 1998 Dec;4(4):355-64.

Mortality from non-Hodgkin lymphoma and UV exposure in the European Community.

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Centre for Social and Economic Research on the Global Environment, University of East Anglia, London, UK.


There has been a large, unexplained rise in the incidence of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma (NHL) in many countries. It has been hypothesised that increased exposure to solar ultraviolet (UV) radiation may have been a factor in this increase. The hypothesis that exposure to ultraviolet radiation is a factor in NHL can be tested by examining whether geographical variations in UV and in the incidence of the disease are positively correlated. Previous studies have given mixed results but some of these have failed to take into account confounding by socio-economic factors and the multilevel structure of data derived from several different countries. It was therefore decided to carry out a study using data on NHL mortality for the period 1971-80 for level II administrative units in 9 countries in the European Community. Estimated levels of solar UV and per capita GDP were also derived. Poisson regression models of the relationship between NHL mortality, UV and per capita GDP, taking into account the multilevel structure of the data, were fitted using the MLn package. Simple models that did not adjust for the effects of variations in per capita GDP or account adequately for the structure of the data produced apparent negative or quadratic associations between NHL and UV. However, further models show that there is a highly significant positive association between NHL and per capita GDP. Once this is included in the fixed and random parts of the multilevel model the association between NHL and UV becomes positive although non-significant (p = 0.081) at the conventional 0.05 level. These results underline the need to control for socio-economic factors and to take into account the multilevel structure of the data. Studies using international data that do not do this run the risk of producing misleading results.

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