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Brain Tumors: Risk Factors

What is a risk factor?

A risk factor is anything that may increase your chance of having a disease. Risk factors for a certain type of cancer might include smoking, diet, family history, or many other things. The exact cause of someone’s cancer may not be known. But risk factors can make it more likely for a person to have cancer.

Things you should know about risk factors for cancer:

  • Risk factors can increase a person's risk, but they do not necessarily cause the disease.

  • Some people with 1 or more risk factors never develop cancer. Other people can develop cancer and have no risk factors.

  • Some risk factors are very well known. But there is ongoing research about risk factors for many types of cancer.

Some risk factors, such as family history, may not be in your control. But others may be things you can change. Knowing the risk factors can help you make choices that might lower your risk. For example, if an unhealthy diet is a risk factor, you may choose to eat healthy foods. If excess weight is a risk factor, your healthcare provider may check your weight or help you lose weight.

Who is at risk for brain tumors?

Most brain tumors occur in people without any known risk factors. But some factors may increase your risk for brain tumors, such as:

  • Radiation exposure. People who have received radiation to the head are at higher risk for brain tumors. Most often this exposure comes from radiation therapy used to treat another type of cancer, such as leukemia during childhood.

  • Certain inherited syndromes. People who are born with certain syndromes, such as neurofibromatosis, von Hippel-Lindau disease, Li-Fraumeni syndrome, and tuberous sclerosis, have an increased risk of growing brain tumors.

  • Family history of brain tumors. Most people with brain tumors don’t have a family history of the disease. But in rare cases, tumors can run in families.

  • Weak immune system. People who have a weak immune system have a higher risk of developing a central nervous system (CNS) lymphoma. This includes people who have AIDS or who have had an organ transplant.

Researchers have also looked at many other factors that might increase a person's risk of brain tumors. This includes:

  • Contact with chemicals such as vinyl chloride, pesticides, and petroleum products

  • Cell phone use

  • Living near power lines

  • Infection with certain viruses

So far there is no strong evidence linking these other factors to brain tumors. Research on these possible links is ongoing.

What are your risk factors?

Talk with your healthcare provider about your risk factors for brain tumors and what you can do about them. Most people who develop brain tumors do not have known risk factors, so it is not clear if there is any way to prevent these tumors. Even among the known risk factors, most of these are not likely to be under your control.

There are some possible risk factors you might be able to control, such as cell phone use and exposure to power lines and chemicals. But it is not yet clear if these factors are truly linked to brain tumors. If you are concerned about your risk, talk with your doctor about what you can do.

Online Medical Reviewer: Alteri, Rick, MD
Online Medical Reviewer: Cunningham, Louise, RN
Date Last Reviewed: 7/14/2015
© 2013 The StayWell Company, LLC. 780 Township Line Road, Yardley, PA 19067. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare provider's instructions.
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