Risk Factors for Primary Brain Tumors

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A risk factor is anything that increases a person’s chances of getting a particular disease, such as cancer. Despite extensive past and current research to identify major risk factors, it appears that most primary brain tumors develop for no apparent know reason. Radiation therapy to the head for the treatment of other types of cancers is currently the only established risk factor for developing a primary brain tumor. For example, children with leukemia who receive radiation therapy to the brain as part of their treatment are at risk for developing a brain tumor later in life.

The link between exposure to certain chemicals (e.g., vinyl chloride), petroleum products, and chemicals used in the production of synthetic rubber has been suspected, but not proven, as a risk factor for brain tumors. More recently, the expansion of wireless cellular telephones has raised the concern about a possible link between radiofrequency exposure from cellular phones and the development of brain tumors. To date, no studies have found an association between the use of cellular phones and brain tumors, however, research in this area is ongoing. Exposure to electromagnetic fields from high-tension wires has also been suspected as a risk factor for brain tumors, however, most studies have concluded that there is no strong evidence that clearly proves an association.

Causes of Primary Brain Tumors
Over the years, researchers have learned a great deal about the underlying molecular and genetic events that are involved in the transformation of a “normal” cell to a “malignant” or cancerous cell. Brain tumors, like other types of cancers, are thought to be caused bygenetic mutations (abnormalities). Some genetic mutations are passed down from parents to children (inherited mutations) while other genetic mutations, known as acquired mutations, develop as a result of risk factors, such as smoking or chemical exposure, that causes damage to the genetic material (DNA) of the cells during the normal cell division cycle.

Most people who develop a primary brain tumor do not have a family history of brain tumors so that inherited mutations do not appear to play a major role in the development of brain tumors. With the exception of exposure to ionizing radiation during radiation therapy to the head for the treatment of other types of cancers, there is no clear-cut association between exposure to other environmental risk factors and the development of brain tumors.

As mentioned previously, it appears that most primary brain tumors develop for no apparent know reason. Although the exact cause remains elusive, researchers are continuing to investigate the role of environmental factors, genetic factors, and certain types of viruses in the development of primary brain tumors.

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