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Risk factors for brain tumors

Dominique Michaud, Sc.D
Tracy Batchelor, MD, MPH
Section Editors
Jay S Loeffler, MD
Patrick Y Wen, MD
Deputy Editor
April F Eichler, MD, MPH


Primary brain tumors are a diverse group of neoplasms arising from different cells of the central nervous system (CNS). (See "Classification and pathologic diagnosis of gliomas", section on 'Histopathologic and molecular classification'.)

Although incidence rates for primary brain and central nervous system cancers were increasing through the late 1980s, the rates have been decreasing by about 0.2 percent annually over the past 15 years [1]. Among the factors that contributed to the early increase in rates were the introduction of noninvasive diagnostic technology including computerized tomography (CT) in the 1970s and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) in the 1980s, better health care access for older adults [2]. (See "Incidence of primary brain tumors".)

These data, in conjunction with evidence suggesting the increase may have been occurring for many decades, leave open the possibility that environmental exposures may account for the increasing incidence of brain tumors.  

General risk factors that have been associated with brain tumors are discussed here. A number of putative risk factors for brain tumors have been examined (table 1). A shortcoming in many reports is the tendency to group all brain tumors together; this approach may miss important exposures for specific histopathologic types of tumors [3].

The epidemiology of meningioma and its associated risk factors are discussed separately. (See "Epidemiology, pathology, clinical features, and diagnosis of meningioma".)


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