Causes and Risk Factors of Brain Cancer
Brain cancer can be categorized as one of two main types: primary or secondary (metastatic) brain tumors. Primary brain tumors originate in the brain, whereas metastatic brain tumors develop in other organs—such as the breast or lung—and then spread to the brain. While secondary brain tumors are caused by other types of cancer growing and metastasizing, researchers can’t pinpoint the precise causes of primary brain cancer. They can, however, explain how malignant brain tumors form and what factors may contribute to their growth.
What causes brain cancer?
Generally speaking, brain tumors are a result of genetic mutations in healthy cells. These genetic mutations cause healthy brain cells to grow and divide much faster than normal, while also preventing them from dying off when their natural life cycles complete. This rapid buildup of cells is what forms a tumor.
Although the exact causes of primary brain cancer aren’t fully understood, there are several factors that have been attributed to an increased risk for developing it.
Brain cancer risk factors
Researchers have discovered several brain cancer risk factors, which are traits that can make a person more susceptible to tumors of the brain and spinal cord. That’s not to say that people who have one (or more) of these traits will develop cancer; many people have several of these characteristics and live perfectly healthy lives.
Additionally, brain tumors can develop in people who have no known risk factors at all. For the most part, risk factors are used to identify individuals who should closely monitor their health and report any potential brain cancer symptoms to a physician.
Taking a closer look at the more common risk factors of brain cancer may be helpful for individuals who are determining their own levels of risk.
Brain cancer risk factors you can change
Research suggests the following controllable factors may influence brain cancer risk:
- Radiation therapy – Exposure to ionizing radiation—specifically when it is delivered to the head or neck—may increase the likelihood of developing brain cancer.
- Environmental exposures – There may be a link between brain cancer and frequent exposure to certain chemicals found in pesticides, herbicides, fertilizer, solvents, vinyl chloride and oil products, although more research on this subject is needed.
Brain cancer risk factors you can’t change
Most risk factors for brain cancer can’t be controlled. These include:
- Age – Brain cancer can occur at any age but is most common in children and older adults.
- Biological sex – Generally speaking, men are more likely to develop brain cancer than women.
- Family medical history – Around 5% of brain tumors can be linked to familial syndromes like neurofibromatosis, Li-Fraumeni syndrome, tuberous sclerosis and Von Hippel-Lindau disease.
- A weakened immune system – Having a compromised immune system from congenital or acquired factors (such as HIV or AIDS) can leave a person more susceptible to certain types of brain cancer.
Common brain cancer causes and risk factor FAQs
Check out some of the most frequently asked questions regarding brain cancer, its causes and possible risk factors for this disease:
Moffitt’s approach to brain cancer
Moffitt Cancer Center’s Neuro-Oncology Program takes a multispecialty, comprehensive approach to brain cancer diagnosis and treatment. Our team comprises experts from all areas of clinical treatment and supportive care—neurosurgeons, medical oncologists, neuropathologists, radiation oncologists, therapists, social workers, etc.—who collaborate to create individualized treatment plans and ensure the best possible outcome and quality of life for each of our patients.
As a National Cancer Institute-designated Comprehensive Cancer Center, Moffitt is also recognized for its robust clinical trials program and ongoing research initiatives. Our patients have access to the most innovative and groundbreaking treatments before they are widely available. Additionally, Moffitt provides genetic counseling services to individuals who would like to learn more about their familial risk factors for brain cancer.
Medically reviewed by Sepideh Mokhtari, MD
For the best cancer outcomes, choose Moffitt first. Call 1-888-663-3488 or submit a new patient registration form online to receive more information about brain cancer causes, risk factors or treatment options. No referrals are needed to visit Moffitt, and you’ll be rapidly connected to a cancer expert for your needs.