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What Causes Brain Cancer?

written by: N Nayab • edited by: Diana Cooper • updated: 8/19/2010

Brain cancer is a deadly disease affecting nearly 15 to 20 percent of the populace in the United States, and causing around 13,000 deaths annually. The major substantiated causes of brain cancer is exposure to vinyl chloride.

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    Causes of Brain Cancer The cells in the human body grow and divide to form new cells when the body needs them. At times new cells form when the body does not need them, and old cells do not die when they should normally die. These extra cells form a mass of tissue called a growth or tumor, and these tumors crowd out other cells and tissues, interrupting vital body functions and threatening life. When such tumor build up occurs in the brain, the result is brain cancer.

    Brain tumors are either benign or malignant. Benign brain tumors once formed stop growing and surgery cures the condition. Malignant brain tumors however continue to grow rapidly even after surgery, and soon become life threatening.

    Brain tumors usually originate elsewhere in the body and spread to the brain. The origin traces to the glial cells or the supportive cells of the nervous system in most of the cases. These secondary types of brain tumors are far more common compared to primary brain tumors that originate in the brain.

    Image Credit: flickr.com/L_Family

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    Exposure to Dangerous Chemicals

    The primary cause for brain cancer is exposure to dangerous chemicals while at work.

    Exposure to vinyl chloride, also known as chloroethene, chloroethylene, or ethylene monochloride is the only proven causative factor of brain cancer. Vinyl chloride is a toxic compound and a known carcinogen extensively used in plastics industry and present in tobacco smoke. Workers in factories remain at primary risk. Industries without proper disposal methods lead vinyl chloride into the atmosphere, putting people in the surrounding areas also at risk.

    Formaldehyde, used by pathologists and embalmers, and Acrylonitrilem, used in textile industry may also cause brain cancer, but research in this area is not conclusive.

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    Other Possible Causes

    Secondary brain cancer occur when the cancer grows from existing or previous diseases such as HIV, syphilis, tuberculosis, melanoma, and cancer in other parts of the body, such as in lungs, breasts, colon, kidney, nervous system, and other places. This is the second possible cause for brain tumor build-up after exposure to dangerous chemicals.

    Radiation to the head is a suggested cause for brain cancer, and the possibility of cell phone usage being a cause of brain cancer has received considerable interest in recent times. Research has not proved this link so far.

    Genetic mutations that cause deletion of genes that suppress the development of malignant cells also cause brain cancer.

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    Risk Factors

    Risk factors increase the chances of being afflicted by the disease, but do not actually cause the disease.

    The major brain cancer risk factors include:

    • Demographic factors: Brain cancer is common across all ages and sex, but trends indicate that white males above 70 years are extremely susceptible to the disease compared to others. Leukemia, or childhood brain cancer is more common in children younger than eight years old than in older children.
    • Family history: People with family members having brain cancer remain at a higher risk of contacting brain cancer themselves.

    Finally, while brain cancer can spread to other areas such as lungs, breast and the like, it is not contagious, and does not occur due to head injury. Early detection increases the chance of successful surgery, chemotherapy, or radiation, the three standard treatments.

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    References

    1. Medicinenet.com. Brain Tumor. http://www.medicinenet.com/brain_tumor/page4.htm
    2. Healthcommunities.com. Causes and Risk Factors for Brain Cancer. http://www.oncologychannel.com/braincancer/causes.shtml
    3. Mayoclinic.com. Brain tumor. http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/brain-tumor/DS00281/DSECTION=causes