A risk factor is something that increases your chances of getting cancer. 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 health care provider what you can do to reduce your risk.

There are few known risk factors for brain tumors, mostly because little is known about the causes of brain tumors. The risk factors listed below are under investigation but not confirmed. Those listed for secondary brain tumors refer to risk factors for specific cancers outside the brain, such as lung, breast, and skin, which may metastasize (spread) to the brain.

Risk Factors for Primary Brain Tumors

The following factors may increase your risk of developing a primary brain tumor:

Environmental Exposures

  • Ionizing radiation (Brain tissue is relatively insensitive, so radiation more frequently causes other cancers.)
  • Environmental and/or industrial toxins:
    • Oil refining
    • Rubber manufacturing


The risk for brain tumor appears to be greater in younger people. Children get more primary brain tumors than older persons. Older people get more secondary brain tumors.

Genetic Factors

Several uncommon hereditary diseases can predispose a person to brain tumors:

  • Von Hippel-Lindau syndrome – a rare genetic disorder in which some blood vessels grow in an abnormal way. It tends to occur in parts of the body that are rich in blood vessels.
  • Li-Fraumeni syndrome – a rare genetic syndrome in which patients are predisposed to cancer.
  • Werner's syndrome – a genetic disease that causes patients to show many symptoms of premature aging, including hair graying and loss, cataracts, atherosclerosis, and osteoporosis.
  • Von Recklinghausen's disease (neurofibromatosis) – a genetic disorder of the nervous system. It causes tumors to grow on the nerves in any part of the body.
  • Tuberous sclerosis – a rare genetic, neurologic disorder primarily characterized by seizures, mental retardation, and lesions on the skin and eyes.
  • Turcot syndrome – a rare inherited disorder that causes brain and colon tumors.

Risk Factors Related to Secondary Brain Tumors

  • Smoking increases the risk of numerous cancers.
  • Sun exposure increases the risk of melanoma.