The international study, led by Dr Richard McNally at the University of Newcastle upon Tyne, was funded by Cancer Research UK, the Dutch Cancer Society, and the Christie Hospital Research Endowment Fund.
The British and Dutch team* analysed a database of adult brain tumours diagnosed in patients from the North Brabant province of the Netherlands between 1983 and 2001. 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, adding weight to the theory that outbreaks of viruses are a potential contributory cause of brain tumours. Diseases caused by more constant environmental factors, such as pollution, produce clusters of cases in one place over a much longer time period.
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 potentially be a step towards developing better preventative measures for cancer and may also result in 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
Source:University of Newcastle upon Tyne