Brain and Spinal Tumors: Risk Factors

Most brain tumors are caused by abnormalities in the genes that control the growth of brain cells, which causes uncontrolled cell growth. These abnormalities are caused by alterations in the genes themselves, or by chromosome rearrangements that change the function of a gene.

Patients with certain genetic conditions (i.e., neurofibromatosis, von Hippel-Lindau disease, Li-Fraumeni syndrome, and retinoblastoma) also have an increased risk of developing tumors of the central nervous system. There have also been some reports of people in the same family developing brain tumors who do not have any of these genetic syndromes.

Some researchers have been investigating parents of children with brain tumors and their past exposure to certain chemicals. Workers in oil refining, rubber manufacturing, and chemists have a higher incidence of certain types of tumors. Which, if any, chemical toxin is related to this increase in tumors is unknown at this time.

Patients who have received radiation therapy to the head as part of prior treatment for other malignancies are also at an increased risk for new brain tumors.

The cause of schwannomas is not clear, although it appears genetics play a role. Most people that have spinal schwannomas are between 30 and 60 years old, though they can occur at any age. Those with a family history of spine cancer are also at a higher risk.