The risk of many cancers in adults can be reduced with certain lifestyle changes (such as quitting smoking). But other than radiation exposure, there are no known lifestyle-related or environmental risk factors for brain and spinal cord tumors, so at this time there is no known way to protect against most of these tumors.
For most people with other types of cancer in or near the head, radiation therapy may be given if doctors feel the benefits of the treatment outweigh the small risk of developing a brain tumor years later. Still, when it is needed, doctors try to limit the dose of radiation as much as possible.
Imaging tests such as x-rays or CT scans use much lower levels of radiation than those used for cancer treatment. If there is any increase in risk from these tests, it is likely to be very small, but to be safe, most doctors recommend that people (especially pregnant women and children) not get these tests unless they are absolutely needed.
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Dorsey JF, Salinas RD, Dang M, et al. Chapter 63: Cancer of the central nervous system. In: Niederhuber JE, Armitage JO, Doroshow JH, Kastan MB, Tepper JE, eds. Abeloff’s Clinical Oncology. 6th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Elsevier; 2020.
Michaud D, Batchelor T. Risk factors for brain tumors. UpToDate. 2020. Accessed at https://www.uptodate.com/contents/risk-factors-for-brain-tumors on February 7, 2020.
Last Revised: May 5, 2020