Brain Cancer Risk Factors

Couple taking to doctor about brain cancer risk factors

Researchers have discovered several brain cancer risk factors, which are traits that can make a person more susceptible to tumors of the brain and spinal cord. Common risk factors of brain cancer include: 

  • Radiation exposure
  • Genetics
  • Weakened immune system
  • Age
  • Biological sex
  • Exposure to pesticides, herbicides and fertilizer
  • Exposure to elements, such as lead, plastic, rubber, petroleum and certain textiles
  • A family history of brain tumors

That’s not to say that people who have one (or more) of these traits will develop cancer; many people have several of these characteristics and live perfectly healthy lives. Additionally, brain tumors can develop in people who have no known risk factors at all. For the most part, risk factors are used to identify individuals who should closely monitor their health and report any potential brain cancer symptoms to a physician.

Taking a closer look at the more common risk factors of brain cancer may be helpful for individuals who are determining their own levels of risk:

Radiation Exposure

One of the primary risk factors for brain cancer is exposure to ionizing radiation (specifically, radiation therapy that was delivered to the head or neck). Exposure to certain chemicals and electromagnetic fields may also make a person more likely to develop a brain tumor, although the correlation has not yet been confirmed.


Additionally, researchers have identified several genetic risk factors. People who have inherited the following conditions may have a higher risk of developing brain cancer:

  • Neurofibromatosis type 1 (N1F1) or type 2 (N2F2)
  • Tuberous sclerosis
  • Von Hippel-Lindau disease
  • Li-Fraumeni syndrome

Weakened Immune System

Immune system disorders, such as AIDS, may also make a person more susceptible to brain cancer. Similarly, being infected with Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) can increase a person’s risk of developing central nervous system lymphoma.

Other Factors

Age and biological sex can also influence a person’s brain cancer risk. With the exception of meningioma, which is more common in women, most brain cancers are diagnosed men. Older adults are also the most likely age group to develop brain tumors.

Moffitt Cancer Center’s team of expert neuro-oncologists can help you determine which steps you should take if you have any of these brain cancer risk factors. To schedule an appointment with a member of our team, call 1-888-663-3488 or submit a new patient registration form online. No referral is required.