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Cancer Treatment Centers of America

Brain cancer risk factors

The cause of brain cancer is still largely unknown. Although there are some genetic conditions and environmental factors which may contribute to the development of brain cancer, the risk factors are much less defined for brain cancer than for other cancers in the body.

Also, the risk of developing primary brain cancer is very low. The American Cancer Society estimates the risk over a lifetime is less than one percent.

It’s important to remember that a brain cancer risk factor only affects the probability of developing brain cancer over a lifetime. For example, if you’ve received radiation therapy to treat another cancer, or if you’ve worked in an industry where you handled potentially cancerous chemicals, you may want to discuss with your doctor what it means for your individual risk of developing brain cancer.

cancer risks

Brain cancer risk factors


  • Gender: There is no general rule that covers all brain cancers. Certain cancers, like meningiomas, are twice as likely to develop in women. Medulloblastomas are more frequently found in males.
  • Age: In general, the frequency of brain cancer increases with age, with more occurrences in individuals age 65 and older. The age factor varies depending on the cell type and location of the tumor. Adults have a very low risk of developing medulloblastomas, while gliomas are most common in adults. The incidence of meningiomas and craniopharyngiomas are far more frequent in adults over age 50, but again, these tumors may occur at any age.


  • Compromised immune system: Some people with compromised immune systems have an increased risk of developing lymphomas of the brain.


  • Genetic links: Family history may affect the likelihood of developing certain diseases. Von Hippel-Lindau disease, Li-Fraumeni syndrome, and Neurofibromatosis (NF1 and NF2) are inherited conditions that have been found in families with a history of rare brain tumors. Otherwise, there is little evidence that brain cancer runs in families.


  • Chemical exposure: Exposure to certain industrial chemicals or solvents has been linked to an increased risk in developing brain cancer. Although it is not conclusive, there is evidence that there is a higher incidence of certain types of brain tumors in individuals who work in oil refining, rubber manufacturing and drug manufacturing.


  • Radiation treatment: Exposure to radiation therapy, particularly at a young age, may increase the likelihood of developing brain cancer.

Last Revised: 10/09/2015

Understanding risk factors

Anything that increases your risk of getting a disease is called a risk factor. Having a risk factor does not mean that you will get cancer. Not having risk factors doesn’t mean that you will not get cancer. If you think you may be at risk, you should discuss it with your doctor.

Meet our neurosurgery experts

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If you have a neurologic cancer, it's important to be seen by a multidisciplinary team of physicians with expertise in performing cancer-related surgical procedures on the nervous system and its supporting structures.

Meet some of our neurosurgery experts:

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