What Factors Increase the Risk of Brain Tumors?

In most cases, the diagnosis of a brain tumor can’t be traced to a particular cause or risk factor. As with many forms of cancer, brain tumor risk increases with age – although tumors can develop in younger people – and men have a somewhat greater risk than women.

About five percent of brain tumors are associated with an inherited cancer predisposition syndrome, such as Li-Fraumeni syndrome, neurofibromatosis type 1 and 2, Turcot syndrome, Gorlin syndrome and von Hippel-Lindau disease.

The only established environmental risk factor for brain tumors is exposure to ionizing radiation. People who receive radiation treatment in childhood may develop brain tumors 10 to 15 years later.

There has been wide concern about the possibility that a different type of radiation – radiofrequency radiation, which is emitted by cell phones – may increase the risk of brain tumors. While some studies have suggested there might be a link, most research has failed to document a link, according to a summary of evidence published by the National Cancer Institute, which recommends further study. A large study called COSMOS was launched in Europe in 2010 to follow the health of some 290,000 cell phone users for 20 to 30 years.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has recommended that people reserve cell phones for shorter conversations and use devices with hands-free technology that can provide more distance between the phone and the user’s head.

Learn more about brain tumor research and treatment at Dana-Farber.