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A risk factor is something that increases your chances of getting a disease or condition.

It is possible to develop brain tumors with or without the risk factors listed below. However, the more risk factors you have, the greater your likelihood of developing brain tumors. If you have a number of risk factors, ask your doctor what you can do to reduce your risk.

There are few known risk factors for primary brain tumors because so little is known about what causes them. They are the second most common form of cancer in children and adolescents (generally under 15 years old). Increasing age is a risk factor for primary and secondary brain tumors in adults.

Risk factors are also dependent on the specific type of cancer. For example: meningioma, the most common primary brain tumor in adults, is more frequently found in women than in men. It also affects more African-Americans than Caucasians.

Primary Brain Tumors
Environmental or Occupational Exposures

Radiation exposure produces the greatest risk for brain tumors. This most frequently occurs through radiation therapy to the head to treat other cancers. Exposure to radiation can also come from:

  • Imaging tests, such as x-rays or CT scans
  • Occupations, such as oil refining or rubber manufacturing
Genetics and Family History

Several uncommon hereditary disorders can increase the risk of brain tumors:

Having a first-degree relative increases the risk of developing meningioma.

Secondary Brain Tumors

Secondary brain tumors come from other cancer sites in the body. Cancers that spread to the brain include:

Cancer cell development and growth are influenced by a combination of genetic and lifestyle factors. Managing modifiable risk factors, such as not smoking, can help you reduce your overall risk of cancer.


Astrocytoma and oligodentroglioma in adults. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: Updated May 13, 2016. Accessed September 23, 2016.

Brain and spinal cord tumors in adults. American Cancer Society website. Available at: Accessed August 14, 2015.

Brain and spinal cord tumors in children. American Cancer Society website. Available at: Accessed August 14, 2015.

General information about adult brain tumors. National Cancer Institute website. Available at: Updated February 13, 2015. Accessed August 14, 2015.

Meningioma. EBSCO Plus DynaMed website. Available at: Updated April 29, 2016. Accessed May 10, 2016.

Last reviewed May 2015 by Mohei Abouzied, MD, FACP

Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.

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