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Infections May Cause Childhood Brain Cancers-Study (Reuters) British scientists have found what they believe is further evidence that viral or bacterial infections cause childhood brain tumors. - Apr 02 12:10 PM ET


Posted on: 04/03/2002

Tue Apr 2,12:10 PM ET

LONDON (Reuters) - British scientists have found what they believe is further evidence that viral or bacterial infections cause childhood brain tumors.

In research reported in the British Journal of Cancer on Tuesday, Professor Jillian Birch and colleagues at the University of Manchester said they discovered that childhood brain tumors occur in clusters over short periods of time, suggesting they may be influenced by infections.

"Our results indicate that environmental factors are involved in causing brain tumors in children and the most likely explanation for the pattern we have seen is that one or more types of infections are responsible," Birch said.

A so-called double whammy, combining biological and genetic causes, is thought necessary for some cancers to develop.

Birch and his team analyzed brain cancer in children from northwest England between 1954 and 1998, finding those born in the autumn and winter had a higher risk of developing two types of brain tumors, called astrocytoma and ependymoma.

They also discovered that in certain years children living near each other were more likely to be diagnosed with a brain tumor, a pattern scientists call space-time clustering.

Diseases linked to more constant environmental causes usually produce clusters over longer periods of time than those linked to space-time clustering.

"The fact that the space-time clusters and the seasonal pattern in births are restricted to particular types of childhood brain tumors adds weight to our findings and will allow us to focus our future research on these cases," Birch added in a statement.

Sir Paul Nurse, a director general of the charity Cancer Research UK, which funded the study, said the results back the theory that infections play a role in a number of cancers.

"These initial findings aren't conclusive and we need more evidence to support them, but if an infection is playing a role, this might lead to new ideas for preventing and treating this important disease."

Childhood cancers are rare and survival rates have improved. About 1,500 children in Britain and 8,400 in the United States develop cancer each year. Leukemia is the most common type of childhood cancer, followed by brain and spinal tumors.

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