Scientists find further evidence to suggest that malignant tumours of the brain in childhood could be caused by an infection.
According to a report from researchers at the University of Manchester childhood brain tumours occur in clusters over short periods of time which is suggestive of predisposing infections. Between 1954 and 1998 the team studied a group of children from Northwest England who had brain cancer. They found that those born in the autumn and winter had a higher risk of developing certain types of brain tumours than those born in the spring or summer. Sophisticated statistical techniques were used to explore the pattern of incidence to determine possible causes.
The results indicate that environmental factors are involved in causing brain tumours in children. The most likely explanation for the observed pattern is that of one or more types of infections. It was also seen that in certain years children living near each other were more likely to be diagnosed with a brain tumour. This is a pattern scientists call 'space-time clustering' which is a pattern typical of diseases that are caused by infections.
Childhood cancers are rare. Survival rates have improved over the last few years. Leukaemia is the most common of childhood cancers, followed by malignant brain and spinal tumours. Infections are now known to play a role in a number of cancers so it is not unlikely that a virus or bacterium may also be implicated in predisposing young people to brain tumours. These initial findings are inconclusive and certainly further evidence is required to support them but if proved beyond doubt they could lead to a new approach in the prevention and treatment of this painful disease.
British Journal of Cancer April 2002, Vol. 86(7)
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