Causes of Brain Tumors

The exact cause of brain tumors is unknown. But, certain factors can increase your chance of developing a brain tumor. Risk factors include:

  • Radiation exposure: People who have received radiation to the head are at higher risk for brain tumors. In most cases, this occurs due to radiation used to treat another type of cancer, such as leukemia during childhood.
  • Inherited syndromes: People who are born with certain syndromes have an increased risk for brain tumors. Examples include neurofibromatosis, Von Hippel-Lindau disease, Li-Fraumeni syndrome, Lynch syndrome, and tuberous sclerosis.
  • Family history: Most people with brain tumors do not have a family history of the disease. But, in rare cases, tumors can run in families.
  • Weakened immune system: People who have a weakened immune system have a higher risk of central nervous system (CNS) lymphoma. This includes people with AIDS or an organ transplant. However, aging also is associated with a weakening of the immune system.
  • History of cancer: Some cancers are more likely to spread to the brain. These include breast, lung, and melanoma. This is called a metastatic brain tumor.

Other causes of tumors

Scientists continue to look for other factors that might increase the risk of brain tumors, such as:

  • Contact with certain chemicals, such as vinyl chloride, pesticides and petroleum products
  • Cell phone use
  • Living near power lines
  • Certain viral infections

At this time, there is not strong evidence linking these factors to brain tumors. But, research on these possible links is ongoing.

Related Resources

Lou and Jean Malnati Brain Tumor Institute at the Robert H. Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Center at Northwestern Memorial Hospital
Brain and Spine Tumor Center brochure: Learn about the Brain and Spine Tumor Center at Central DuPage Hospital and Delnor Hospital