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Everyday Habits That Lead to Brain Cancer, Say Doctors

Everything you need to know about cancerous tumors—and how to prevent them.
FACT CHECKED BY Alek Korab
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Brain cancer is one of the most dreaded forms of cancer. According to the American Cancer Society, about 24,530 malignant tumors of the brain or spinal cord are diagnosed annually with around 18,600 people dying from the health condition. What exactly is brain cancer, who is most likely to get it, and what are the contributing factors? Read on for everything you need to know about brain cancer, including the everyday habits that can lead to it. 

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1

What Is Brain Cancer?

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Jennifer Moliterno, MD, Yale Medicine neurosurgeon and associate professor of Neurosurgery, Yale School of Medicine explains that brain cancer is an abnormal growth of cells distinct from healthy brain cells that commonly have the potential to grow and spread or regrow in the brain. "Oftentimes this can be associated with neurological problems and warrant the need for treatment," she says. 

Tumors can originate in the brain itself (also, known as primary brain tumors) or they can begin elsewhere in the body and then spread to the brain (i.e. metastases). 

There are different types of primary brain tumors, depending on the type of cell they originate from (i.e. gliomas, meningiomas) with some behaving more malignant (i.e. glioblastoma) or cancerous than others (i.e schwannomas). "Imaging modalities like MRIs can help distinguish between the different types of brain tumors, but ultimately tissue diagnosis from sampling of the tumor is necessary to distinguish the type," Dr. Moliterno says. Moreover, sophisticated analyses, such as whole exome sequencing, are used to further categorize and define the tumor type by its molecular make-up, leading to more targeted treatments.

2

How Does Brain Cancer Develop? 

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Arushii Nadar, postgraduate associate, Yale School of Medicine Department of Neurosurgery explains that specific genetic mutations can cause brain tumors to form and grow. "These mutations can either exist in a person's germline (i.e. all cells) and be passed down from parent to child, or more commonly, they can spontaneously occur as somatic mutations in certain cells and thus lead to the sporadic (or non-hereditary) tumor formation," she says. 

She uses the example of neurofibromatosis type 2, a genetic disorder that involves a germline mutation in chromosome 22, "and patients can have multiple and different types of brain tumors (i.e. meningiomas, schwannomas) as a result," she says. "Whereas other patients without this germline mutation can develop sporadic meningiomas, which can harbor chromosome 22 loss or NF2 mutation, these occur spontaneously and are not inherited." 

3

Everyday Habits and Behaviors That Can Lead to Brain Cancer

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With regards to primary brain tumors, there really aren't any known habits or behaviors that can lead to their formation, reveals Dr. Moliterno. However, there are a number of contributing factors that may have an indirect link.

4

Smoking and Tobacco Use

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Dr. Moliterno explains that it is commonly known that smoking and tobacco use can lead to lung and throat cancers which can metastasize to the brain. However, "those habits are not linked with brain cancer per se." 

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5

Radiation Exposure

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Dr. Moliterno does reveal that exposure to radiation is known to be associated with brain tumor formation and growth. "However, it is important to note that this is usually at relatively high doses and usually the result of some sort of direct and repeated exposure (i.e. a person who was treated for a different problem with direct radiation earlier in life)."  

6

Gender

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Per the ACS, gender can also impact your chances of developing brain cancer. "The risk of developing any type of brain or spinal cord tumor is slightly higher among women than among men, although the risk of developing a malignant tumor is slightly higher for men than for women," they explain. And to get through life at your healthiest, don't miss: This Supplement Can Raise Your Cancer Risk, Experts Say.

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