Ruth Mitchell

Infections Could Trigger Adult Brain Tumours

Infections could play a key role in triggering certain types of adult brain cancer, a new study sugggests. The international research team, led by Dr Richard McNally at the University of Newcastle upon Tyne, analysed a database of adult brain tumours diagnosed in patients from the North Brabant province of the Netherlands.

They found clusters of cases of glioma tumours, which make up about half of all brain tumours, at different time intervals in different geographical locations. This ‘space-time clustering’ of cases is a pattern typical of diseases caused by infections. Diseases caused by more constant environmental factors, such as pollution, produce clusters of cases in one place over a much longer time period. The British-Dutch team found an irregular pattern where many cases occurred at the same time in men and women over 15-years old in the East of the province but not in the West. Around seven per cent more cases of brain tumours were observed to occur in ‘clusters’ than would be expected by chance.

However, the research team stresses it is too early to say exactly which infections could be the cause, and say that more research is needed to pinpoint what they are. The findings, published in the European Journal of Cancer, may contribute to development of better preventative measures for cancer and better treatment.

Dr Richard McNally, of Newcastle University’s School of Clinical Medical Sciences (Child Health), said: “Very little is known about the cause of brain tumours and we think our research brings us closer to understanding more about this disease. “We only found clustering of cases in the East of the province we investigated, and we think it could be something to do with the way infections spread in less densely populated areas.”

However, the researchers stress that people cannot ‘catch cancer’. Infections are only likely to trigger cancer in a very small number of individuals who are already genetically susceptible to the disease.

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