Causes and risk factors

Experts don’t know what causes a primary brain tumour to develop, but research is going on to find out more.

Certain things called risk factors may increase the chances of developing a brain tumour. Although most brain tumours are not linked with these factors, there are a few things that can increase the risk. Having one of these risk factors doesn’t mean you will get a tumour. Equally, if you don’t have any risk factors, you may still develop a tumour.


Although brain tumours can develop at any age, risk increases as you get older. However, some types of brain tumour are more common in younger adults.


Brain tumours are slightly more common in men than in women

Genetic conditions

A small number of brain tumours happen in people who have certain genetic (hereditary) conditions, such as neurofibromatosis type 1 and type 2, or tuberous sclerosis.

People with some genetic syndromes, such as Li-Fraumeni, Von Hippel-Lindau, Turcot or Gorlin syndrome, also have a slightly higher risk of brain tumours.

Brain tumours are not hereditary. They are not caused by a faulty gene that can be passed on to family members.

Previous radiotherapy treatment

People who had radiotherapy to the head as children have a slightly higher risk of developing a brain tumour later in life.

Other unproven causes

Mobile phones, power lines and certain viruses, have all been suggested as possible causes of brain tumours. A lot of research has investigated these as possible causes, especially mobile phones. But no strong evidence has been found linking any of them to brain tumours.

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