Virginia Commonwealth University

VCU Massey Cancer Center

Causes, risk factors and prevention

What causes brain tumors?

The majority of brain tumors have abnormalities of genes involved in cell cycle control, causing uncontrolled cell growth. These abnormalities are caused by alterations directly in the genes or by chromosome rearrangements that change the function of a gene.

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

Research has been investigating parents of children with brain tumors and their past exposure to certain chemicals. Some chemicals may change the structure of a gene that protects the body from diseases and cancer. 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.

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