Cancer is the biggest health challenge that all countries and their healthcare systems face today. In 2018, there were more than 17 million new cases of cancer diagnosed and nearly 10 million deaths worldwide.

The number of new cases of cancer is also expected to rise to 27.5 million per year by 2040.

Research is continuously undertaken to help develop better cancer treatment options and to also allow for a greater general understanding of the many different types of cancer. Thanks to this research, we now know much more about cancer than we did in the past, such as how it affects the body and what risk factors are associated with specific cancer types.

Here we take a closer look at brain cancer and the risk factors associated with this relatively rare form of cancer.

Brain Cancer Risk Factors

Brain cancer develops where there is abnormal cell growth, which means a tumor eventually forms. Cancer of the brain is comparatively rare in relation to other cancer types. In 2018, there were around 134,000 new cases of brain cancer worldwide, representing just 1.6% of all cancer cases.

Common symptoms associated with brain cancer include headaches and seizures, feelings of nausea and mental and behavioral changes.

  • The cause of brain cancer is not fully understood but there are certain risk factors associated with it that have been identified.
  • A risk factor is anything that increases the likelihood of an individual developing a particular disease.
  • It does not mean that a person who, for example, is in a risky age group or has a certain lifestyle, will definitely develop the disease.
Brain MRI scan

Age

Brain tumors are statistically more prevalent in children and older adults. although they can develop in persons of any age.

In adulthood, it tends to impact older people, but this can also depend on the type of tumor. Meningiomas and craniopharyngiomas, for example, are more often seen in individuals over the age of 50.

Family History

There has been some research into the effect of genetics and whether certain conditions are likely to increase the risk of developing brain cancer. Conditions such as Von Hippel-Lindau disease, for example, have been associated with certain rare cancers of this type.

Research also suggests that an individual has a higher chance of developing a brain tumor than the general population, if they have a close relative (parent/sibling/child) who also has had a brain tumor.

Gender

There are different types of brain tumors and some affect one gender more than the other. For example, medulloblastomas are more likely to be seen in men while meningiomas disproportionally affect women.

Home/Work Exposure

There is some indication that exposure to certain solvents, oils, pesticides and chemicals like vinyl chloride might increase the risk of developing brain cancer.

The research that has been carried out to date involves people who have developed brain cancer and who have worked in industries such as oil refining as well as drugs and rubber manufacturing.

Race and Ethnicity

There has been limited research into how ethnicity might impact on risk. Some data from the US shows that white people are more likely to develop gliomas, whereas black people are more prone to develop meningioma.

Another study has found that those living in the north of Europe are twice as likely to develop a brain tumor compared to people living in Japan.

Exposure to Viruses, Infections and Allergens

Exposure to some kinds of viruses and infections may produce an increased risk of a brain tumor developing. Much of the research in this area has been carried out on animals rather than assessing human subjects and more results are needed before we can see what is potentially happening here.

Cytomegalovirus has also been found in brain tumor tissue. Being infected with the Epstein-Barr virus has been shown to increase the risk of CNS lymphoma

Head Injuries and Seizures

Another health issue that could potentially increase the risk of developing a brain tumor is if an individual has suffered a head injury.