Babies who catch measles or flu in the first months of life might be at higher risk of brain cancer than those who do not, researchers report today..

Babies who catch measles or flu in the first months of life might be at higher risk of brain cancer than those who do not, researchers report today.

The finding, described as tentative, is based on a study of 100,000 children born in Cumbria between 1975 and 1992. There were 24 cases of brain and spinal tumours and the risk was doubled for children in areas where measles was common. Exposure to flu tripled the risk, the researchers from the University of Newcastle found.

The study, published in the British Journal of Cancer, showed that only babies exposed to the infections in the first three months of life were at increased risk. Professor Louise Parker, who led the research, said: "It is difficult to produce strong evidence on the causes of childhood brain cancer because the disease is rare ... But our results do suggest that measles and flu could be associated with increased risk of the disease, and therefore that avoiding these infections might be one way of reducing cancer rates."

A spokeswoman for Cancer Research UK, which funded the study, said the only way of protecting children at birth was to tackle measles as a public health issue. Children are not vaccinated against measles, mumps and rubella until they are between 12 and 15 months because before then the immune system is too immature to respond to the triple vaccine and develop immunity.

The spokeswoman said the aim should be to eradicate the disease rather than to protect children individually. "In Finland they speak of having eradicated measles, mumps and rubella because they have achieved 95 per cent coverage with vaccination," she said.

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