Brain Cancer Risk Factors: Family History, Infection, etc.


Risk factors are the inherited or acquired factors that increase the chance of developing cancer in a person. Several epidemiological studies have suggested a number of genetic and environmental factors that may predispose to brain cancer. A knowledge about them helps us to make necessary lifestyle choices.

Following are some brain cancer risk factors:

  • Exposure to Radiation: Exposure to radiation is only well-established risk factors for the development of CNS tumor. Individuals with a history of exposure to radiation, for example, for the treatment of other cancers remain at high risk of developing CNS tumors. They generally develop 10 to 15 years after radiation treatment.

  • Family History: Individuals with a familial cancer syndrome are considered to be at increased risk of developing certain CNS tumors. Following are some examples:
    • Mutation in Neurofibromatosis type 1 (NF1) gene is associated with higher risk of schwannomas, meningiomas, and certain types of gliomas.
    • Mutation in Neurofibromatosis type 2 (NF2) gene is associated with increased risk of vestibular schwannomas (acoustic neuromas), meningiomas, and spinal cord ependymomas.
    • Von Hippel-Lindau disease increases the risk of developing hemangioblastomas and other non-CNS tumors.
    • Li-Fraumeni syndrome increases the risk of developing gliomas and certain other non-CNS tumors.
    • Tuberous sclerosis is linked with the development of subependymal giant cell astrocytomas (SEGAs) and some other CNS and non-CNS tumors.
  • Exposure to certain chemicals: Chronic exposure to certain chemicals like petroleum products, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, vinyl chloride, aspartame, insecticides, and herbicides have been reported to elevate the risk of developing certain types of CNS tumors.
  • Infection: Risk of developing certain types of CNS tumors is higher in individuals who have a history of infection with certain viruses, like Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) or human cytomegalovirus (hCMV).
  • Weakened immune system: Individuals with a weak immune system that may be due to HIV infection, auto-immune disease, or immunosuppressants in patients who have undergone an organ transplant are considered at higher risk of developing primary CNS lymphomas.
  • Exposure to strong electromagnetic fields and excessive cell-phone use has also been reported to increase the risk of brain tumors in some studies; however, the association was not proved in other studies.
  • Age: Most CNS cancers/tumors types are common among old-age individuals with an exception of a few types that are more common among children.
  • Gender: Meningiomas and schwannomas are more common in women, while primary CNS lymphomas, gliomas, and medulloblastomas are more common in men.
  • Ethnicity: Meningiomas are most commonly reported in African Americans while gliomas and medulloblastomas are more common in Caucasians.

In the next section, you will read about the symptoms of brain cancer.

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