The chicken pox is one of those pesky illness that affects kids and pains their parents, but it may offer some positive health benefits later in life, experts believe – a reduced risk for developing glioma.

In one of the largest studies to date, an international consortium led by researchers in the Dan L Duncan Comprehensive Cancer Center at Baylor College of Medicine reported an inverse relationship between a history of chicken pox and glioma, a type of brain cancer, meaning that children who have had the chicken pox may be less likely to develop brain cancer.

The Baylor team 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, reported their results in the journal Cancer Medicine.

In the study, the team reviewed information from the Glioma International Case-Control Study is a large, multi-site consortium with data on 4533 cases and 4171 controls collected across five countries.

They 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.

Others who contributed to the work include Michael E. Scheurer, Renke Zhou, Georgina N. Armstrong, Ching C. Lau all with Baylor College of Medicine; Margaret R. Wrensch with the University of California; Daniel Lachance and Robert B. Jenkins with the Mayo Clinic Comprehensive Cancer Center; Sara H. Olson and Jonine L. Bernstein with Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center; Elizabeth B. Claus with Yale University School of Medicine and Brigham and Women’s Hospital; Jill S. Barnholtz-Sloan with Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine; Dora Il’yasova and Joellen Schildkraut with Duke University Medical Center; Francis Ali-Osman with Duke University Medical Center; Siegal Sadetzki with Gertner Institute and Tel-Aviv University; Ryan T. Merrell with NorthShore University HealthSystem, Faith G. Davis with the University of Alberta; Rose Lai with The University of Southern California Keck School of Medicine; Sanjay Shete with The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center; Christopher I. Amos Norris Cotton Cancer Center; and Beatrice S. Melin with Umeå University.

Funding for this work was provided by the National Cancer Institute (Grant/Award Number: ‘P30CA125123_, ’P50097257_, ’R01CA139020_, ’R01CA52689_).