Brain tumor: Causes & Risk factors

Brain tumors are ‘the abnormal growth of cells in your brain and spinal cord’ leading to severe health problems and even death 

The American Cancer Society estimates the risk of brain cancer at less than 1 percent. The numbers may sound reassuring, but the crippling effects of a brain tumor are far more alarming.  

Knowing the causes and risk factors can help you make better decisions. Talk to us if you have any concerns. Call us on 718-DORAL-500. 

Risk factors 

Scientists have not found a definitive cause of brain tumors, and there are few established risk factors.  

Here’s a list of risk factors linked to brain cancer: 

  • Age- Although brain tumors can develop at any age, they are more common in  
    • children (less than 5 years old) and  
    • older adults (65 years or older).  
  • Gender-  
    • Women have a lower risk than men.  
    • Also, some tumors are more common in one gender, like- Meningiomas in females and Medulloblastomas and Glioblastomas in males. 
  • Exposure to chemicals- Exposure to aspartame (sugar substitute), industrial solvents, pesticides, petroleum products, rubber, or vinyl chloride has been linked to brain tumor development. However, there is very little evidence to support this. 
  • Family history- About 5% of brain tumors have been linked to genetic factors or conditions that are hereditary.  
    • Neurofibromatosis type 1 (NF1)/ von Recklinghausen disease: This is the most common syndrome linked to brain and spinal cord tumors [like schwannomas, meningiomas, gliomas, as well as neurofibromas (benign tumors of peripheral nerves)]. 
    • Neurofibromatosis type 2 (NF2): This condition is linked to vestibular schwannomas (acoustic neuromas), meningiomas, and spinal cord ependymomas.  
    • Tuberous sclerosis: It is associated with benign tumors in the brain [like subependymal giant cell astrocytoma (SEGA)]. 
    • Von Hippel-Lindau syndrome: People with this condition tend to develop hemangioblastomas (benign blood vessel tumors) in the brain, and spinal cord.  
    • Li-Fraumeni syndrome: It is linked to a higher risk of developing gliomas. 
    • Turcot syndrome: Turcot syndrome (also known as brain tumor-polyposis syndrome) is characterized by colon polyps, an increased risk of colorectal cancer, and certain brain tumors. It has two hereditary variants: 
      • When linked with familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP), the brain tumors are typically medulloblastomas. 
      • When linked with Lynch syndrome (also known as hereditary non-polyposis colorectal cancer or HNPCC), brain tumors are usually gliomas. 
    • Other syndromes associated with brain tumors are  
      • Gorlin syndrome (basal cell nevus syndrome) 
      • Cowden syndrome 
  • Viral Infections- Infection with the Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) increases the risk of CNS lymphoma, and high levels of a common virus called cytomegalovirus (CMV) have been found in brain tumors.  
  • Electromagnetic radiation- There is conflicting information about exposure to electromagnetic fields (like microwaves, power lines, or cell phones). The World Health Organization (WHO) however recommends limiting cell phone use for both adults and children. 
  • Race and ethnicity. Some races/ethnicities are more susceptible to certain types of brain tumors (Whites are more likely to develop gliomas, while African-Americans have more chances of developing meningiomas).  
  • Ionizing radiation. Earlier treatment to the brain or head with ionizing radiation (including x-rays), has been shown to be a risk factor for a brain tumor. 
  • Weak Immune System: People with weakened immune systems have an increased risk of developing lymphomas of the brain or spinal cord (known as primary CNS lymphomas). 
  • Head injury- Serious head trauma has long been studied for its relationship to brain tumors like meningiomas.  
  • N-nitroso compounds- N-nitroso compounds (formed from nitrites/nitrates found in cured meats, cigarette smoke, and cosmetics) raise the risk of both childhood and adult brain tumors.  

Learn more about brain cancer and its treatments. Visit our Neurology page. 

When to see a doctor? 

Make an appointment with your doctor if you have been exposed to any of the above or have symptoms that concern you. At Doral Health and Wellness, we have doctors that can help you manage your condition. For more information, you can visit us at 1797 Pitkin Avenue, Brooklyn, New York, 11212, or call us at 1-347-384-5690. You can also visit our website at or contact us at if you have any queries.