Can Brain and Spinal Cord Tumors in Adults Be Prevented?

The risk of many cancers in adults can be reduced with certain lifestyle changes (such as staying at a healthy weight or 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.

Limiting radiation exposure to the head

For most people with other types of cancer in or near the head, radiation therapy may be given if doctors feel the benefits 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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Chang SM, Mehta MP, Vogelbaum MA, Taylor MD, Ahluwalia MS. Chapter 97: Neoplasms of the central nervous system. In: DeVita VT, Lawrence TS, Rosenberg SA, eds. DeVita, Hellman, and Rosenberg’s Cancer: Principles and Practice of Oncology. 10th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins; 2015.

Dorsey JF, Hollander AB, Alonso-Basanta M, et al. Chapter 66: Cancer of the central nervous system. In: Abeloff MD, Armitage JO, Niederhuber JE. Kastan MB, McKenna WG, eds. Abeloff’s Clinical Oncology. 5th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Elsevier; 2014.

Last Medical Review: September 30, 2017 Last Revised: November 6, 2017

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