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Does breastfeeding reduce risk of brain tumours in children?

We need to find new ways to prevent and treat brain cancer in children. There are many health benefits of breastfeeding for children, and researchers suspect it might also reduce risk of brain cancer. In this brain tumour research project, Dr Michael Scheurer will find out whether or not this is the case.

Project Details

  • Project Title

    Timing and Duration of Breastfeeding and Childhood Brain Tumour Risk

  • Lead Researcher

    Dr Michael Scheurer

  • Research Centre

    Baylor College of Medicine

  • City & Institution Postcode

    Houston, Texas, US

  • Start Date

    10 October 2019

  • Duration

    36 months

  • Grant Amount

    £332,838

researchers in the lab

Overview

Childhood brain cancer can be aggressive, and sadly children with these tumours have lower chances of survival compared to other types of cancer. What’s more, brain cancer and its treatment can cause long-term side effects which can have a huge impact throughout a child’s life. We need to understand the biology of brain tumours better, so that we can prevent the disease and develop new treatments.

There are many advantages of breastfeeding for children, it helps to reduce risk of infections, asthma, and other childhood illness. There’s some evidence that it might also slightly reduce the risk of leukaemia in children.

Some previous studies have shown that breastfeeding may also protect children against brain tumours. However, other studies have produced different results, and many of the studies are too small for scientists to be sure.

In this project, Dr Michael Scheurer and his colleagues aim to confirm once and for all whether breastfeeding reduces the risk of brain tumours. He will do this by bringing together data from 10 separate childhood cancer studies from seven countries, as well as records of when each child was diagnosed with brain cancer. These studies have information about a range of potential risk factors, including whether participating children were breastfed or not. Combined, these studies include 3,334 children diagnosed with brain tumours and 12,171 healthy children, making this project the largest ever study of the causes of childhood brain cancer.

Potential impact

This project will provide the strongest evidence yet of whether or not breastfeeding reduces children’s risk of developing brain cancer. If Dr Scheurer shows that it does, this could strengthen recommendations for breastfeeding. What’s more, studying exactly why breastfeeding reduces brain cancer risk will improve our understanding of the disease. This could potentially lead to a better understanding of how brain cancers develop, and new treatments for this aggressive form of childhood cancer and to further highlight the benefits of breastfeeding for children.

About the research team

This project is being conducted by an international group of epidemiologists led by Dr Michael Scheurer. Epidemiologists are health professionals who investigate patterns, causes and effects of diseases and injury in humans. Dr Scheurer will work alongside Dr Beth Mueller who is based at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in the USA. Both Drs Scheurer and Mueller have longstanding research programs investigating childhood brain tumours.

The European partners in this project include Dr Eve Roman at University of York and Dr Jacqueline Clavel at the National Institute of Health and Medical Research in France. Both Dr Roman and Dr Clavel have long-standing research programs aimed at identifying risk factors for childhood cancers.

All four team members have extensive experience conducting their research through international collaborations and have previously worked together as part of the Childhood Leukaemia International Consortium (CLIC).