We aimed to reassess the relationship between phototherapy and cancer in an extended version of a previous cohort and to replicate a report from Quebec of increased cancer risk after phototherapy beginning at age 4 years.
This cohort study included 139 100 children born at ≥35 weeks’ gestation from 1995 to 2017, followed through March 16, 2019, in Kaiser Permanente Northern California hospitals who had a qualifying bilirubin level from −3 mg/dL to +4.9 mg/dL from the American Academy of Pediatrics phototherapy threshold; an additional 40 780 children and 5 years of follow-up from our previous report. The exposure was inpatient phototherapy (yes or no), and the outcomes were various types of childhood cancer. We used Cox proportional hazard models, controlling for propensity-score quintiles, and allowed for time-dependent exposure effects to assess for the risk of cancer after a latent period.
Over a mean (SD) follow-up of 8.2 (5.7) years, the crude incidence of cancer per 100 000 person-years was 25.1 among those exposed to phototherapy and 19.2 among those not exposed (233 cases of cancer). After propensity adjustment, phototherapy was not associated with any cancer (hazard ratio [HR]: 1.13, 95% confidence interval [CI]: 0.83–1.54), hematopoietic cancer (HR: 1.17, 95% CI: 0.74–1.83), or solid tumors (HR: 1.01, 95% CI: 0.65–1.58). We also found no association with cancer diagnoses at age ≥4 years.
We did not confirm previous, concerning associations between phototherapy and adjusted risk of any cancer, nonlymphocytic leukemia, or brain and/or central nervous systems tumors in later childhood.