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What are the risk factors?

The causes of most brain and spinal cord tumours are unknown, but things known to increase a person’s risk include:

Family history – While it is rare for brain tumours to run in families, some people inherit a gene change from their mother or father that increases the risk of developing a brain tumour. For example, some people have a genetic condition called neurofibromatosis, which can lead to mostly benign tumours of the brain and spinal cord.

Radiation therapy – People who have had radiation therapy to the head, particularly to treat childhood leukaemia, may have a slightly higher risk of developing a brain tumour, particularly meningioma.

Chemical exposure – A chemical called vinyl chloride, some pesticides, and working in rubber manufacturing and petroleum refining have been linked with brain tumours.

Mobile phones and microwave ovens

Many people are concerned that electromagnetic radiation from mobile phones or microwave ovens may cause a brain tumour.

Research has not shown that using a mobile phone causes cancer. Studies are continuing to look at the potential long-term effects of mobile phone use. If you are worried about potential harm from mobile phones, consider using a hands-free headset, limit the time you spend on your mobile phone, or send a text rather than calling.

Microwave ovens have been in widespread use since the 1980s. There is no evidence that microwave ovens in good condition release electromagnetic radiation at levels that are harmful to people. 

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This information is reviewed by

This information was last reviewed in May 2022 by the following expert content reviewers: A/Prof Lindy Jeffree, Neurosurgeon, Royal Brisbane and Women’s Hospital, QLD; Emma Daly, Neuro-oncology Clinical Nurse Consultant, Cabrini Health, VIC; A/Prof Andrew Davidson, Neurosurgeon, Victorian Gamma Knife Service, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre and Department of Neurosurgery, Royal Melbourne Hospital, VIC; Beth Doggett, Consumer; Kate Fernandez, 13 11 20 Consultant, Cancer Council SA; Melissa Harrison, Allied Health Manager and Senior Neurological Physiotherapist, Advance Rehab Centre, NSW; A/Prof Rosemary Harrup, Director, Cancer and Blood Services, Royal Hobart Hospital, TAS; A/Prof Eng-Siew Koh, Radiation Oncologist, Liverpool Cancer Therapy Centre, Liverpool Hospital and University of New South Wales, NSW; Andy Stokes,