Risk Factors for Brain Tumor

Executive Summary

Risk factors influence the chance of developing cancer among individuals, but individuals with no risk factors also develop cancer. The individual’s risk factors for a brain tumor are still unclear. Some of the risk factors identified for brain tumor causes include age, gender, home and work exposure, family history, exposure to infections, viruses and allergens, ionizing radiation, race and ethnicity, compromised immune system, head injury and seizures, and presence of N-nitroso compounds in the diet.

Risk Factors Associated with Brain Tumors

How does brain cancer happen? - Quora

The Risk Factors for Brain Tumors can be anything that influences the chance of developing any cancer. But having a risk factor, or many does not give certainty of having particular cancer. Some people with no risk factors can also develop cancer. 

In people with primary brain tumors, the reason for the tumor is not clear. But some factors have been identified that may increase your risk of a brain tumor ​1​.


Like most cancers, the frequency of brain cancer increases with an increase in age, with more chances in people aged 65 or older. Adults have a shallow risk of developing medulloblastomas, while gliomas are usually common in adults. The cases of meningiomas and craniopharyngiomas are far more frequent in adults over age 50, but again, these tumors may occur at any age ​2​.


In general, males are more likely to have brain tumors than women. However, certain cancers, like meningiomas, are twice as likely to develop in women, while medulloblastomas are more frequently found in males ​3​.

Home and work exposures

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Family History

About 5% of brain tumors are linked to hereditary genetic factors or syndromes, like Li-Fraumeni syndrome, neurofibromatosis, nevoid basal cell carcinoma syndrome, tuberous sclerosis, Turcot syndrome, and von Hippel-Lindau disease ​4​.

Exposure to infections, viruses and allergens

Infection with the EpsteinBarr virus (EBV) increases the risk of CNS lymphoma. Also, high levels of a common virus called cytomegalovirus (CMV) have been found in brain tumor tissue. Of note, studies have shown that people with a history of allergies or skin conditions have a lower risk of glioma ​5​.

As per the American Brain Tumor Association, people with a history of childhood chickenpox have a decreased risk of getting brain tumors.

Ionizing radiation

Previous treatment to the brain or head with ionizing radiation, including x-rays, is a risk factor for a brain tumor ​6​. One can be exposed to radiation from nuclear fallout like the incidents in Fukushima and Chernobyl nuclear power plants.

Race and ethnicity

White people are more likely to develop gliomas but less likely to develop meningioma than Black people. Also, people from northern Europe are more than twice as likely to develop a brain tumor as people in Japan. 

Brain tumors, in general, are more common in Caucasians. However, African-American people have more chances to get meningiomas.

Compromised immune system

Some people with compromised immune systems have an increased risk of developing lymphomas of the brain.

Head injury and seizures

Serious head trauma has been shown to link with meningioma.  

N-nitroso compounds is One of the Risk Factors for Brain Tumors

Some diet and vitamin supplementation studies indicate that dietary N-nitroso compounds may raise the risk of childhood and adult brain tumors ​7​. Dietary N-nitroso compounds are formed in the body from nitrites or nitrates found in some cured meats, cigarette smoke, and cosmetics.


  1. 1.
    Ostrom QT, Fahmideh MA, Cote DJ, et al. Risk factors for childhood and adult primary brain tumors. Neuro-Oncology. Published online July 12, 2019:1357-1375. doi:10.1093/neuonc/noz123
  2. 2.
    Ostrom QT, Gittleman H, Truitt G, Boscia A, Kruchko C, Barnholtz-Sloan JS. CBTRUS Statistical Report: Primary Brain and Other Central Nervous System Tumors Diagnosed in the United States in 2011–2015. Neuro-Oncology. Published online October 1, 2018:iv1-iv86. doi:10.1093/neuonc/noy131
  3. 3.
    Claus EB, Walsh KM, Calvocoressi L, et al. Cigarette Smoking and Risk of Meningioma: The Effect of Gender. Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev. Published online April 2, 2012:943-950. doi:10.1158/1055-9965.epi-11-1059
  4. 4.
    Li X, Cao H, Liu Y. Genetic epidemiology and risk factors for brain tumors. Zhong Nan Da Xue Xue Bao Yi Xue Ban. 2018;43(4):345-353. doi:10.11817/j.issn.1672-7347.2018.04.003
  5. 5.
    Amirian ES, Zhou R, Wrensch MR, et al. Approaching a Scientific Consensus on the Association between Allergies and Glioma Risk: A Report from the Glioma International Case-Control Study. Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev. Published online February 2016:282-290. doi:10.1158/1055-9965.epi-15-0847
  6. 6.
    Davis F, Il’yasova D, Rankin K, McCarthy B, Bigner DD. Medical Diagnostic Radiation Exposures and Risk of Gliomas. Radiation Research. Published online June 2011:790-796. doi:10.1667/rr2186.1
  7. 7.
    Johnson KJ, Cullen J, Barnholtz-Sloan JS, et al. Childhood Brain Tumor Epidemiology: A Brain Tumor Epidemiology Consortium Review. Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev. Published online September 5, 2014:2716-2736. doi:10.1158/1055-9965.epi-14-0207