Causes and Risk Factors for Brain Cancer

Aside from a known association with exposure to vinyl chloride, there are no known chemical or environmental agents that lead to the development of brain tumors.

Genetic mutations and deletions of tumor suppressor genes (i.e., genes that suppress the development of malignant cells) increase the risk for some types of brain cancer. Inherited diseases that are associated with brain tumors include the following:

  • Multiple endocrine neoplasia type 1 (pituitary adenoma)
  • Neurofibromatosis type 2 (brain and spinal cord tumors)
  • Retinoblastoma (malignant retinal glioma)
  • Tuberous sclerosis (primary brain tumors)
  • Von Hippel-Lindau disease (retinal tumor, CNS tumors)

Patients with a history of cancer (e.g., melanoma, lung, breast, colon, kidney cancer) are at risk for secondary brain cancer.

Exposure to vinyl chloride is an environmental risk factor for brain cancer. Vinyl chloride is a carcinogen, that is, a cancer-causing substance. It is used in manufacturing plastic products such as pipes, wire coatings, furniture, car parts, and housewares, and is present in tobacco smoke.

Manufacturing and chemical plants may release vinyl chloride into the air or water, and it may leak into the environment as a result of improper disposal. People who work in these plants or live in close proximity to them have an increased risk for brain cancer.

Publication Review By: Stanley J. Swierzewski, III, M.D.

Published: 30 Jul 1999

Last Modified: 02 Sep 2015