Risk factors

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A risk factor is anything that increases a person’s chance of getting a certain condition or disease. Researchers know about some risk factors that increase the chance of developing cancer. But, for most children with cancer, the cause is unknown.

What we do know is that if a child develops cancer, it’s not because of something they, or their parents did to cause it. No one is to blame if a child develops cancer.

Even if your child has a risk factor, it does not mean they will develop cancer. Many children with a risk factor will never develop cancer. Most children with cancer have no known risk factors. Even if a child with a risk factor develops cancer, the risk factor may not have had much to do with it.

Researchers don’t completely understand what causes brain and other CNS tumours. But there are some things that are linked to a higher chance of getting brain and other CNS tumours.

Family history

In rare cases, an increased chance of getting brain and other CNS tumours can run in families. This is more likely if other family members had childhood brain or other CNS tumours. When these tumours run in families, the tumour usually grows at a younger age than in children with no family history of the disease.

Knowledge of your family’s cancer history may change over time.

Brain tumour predisposing genetic conditions

Some types of genetic conditions can increase a child’s chance of getting brain and other CNS tumours. In these cases, researchers have found specific changes in one or several genes that can cause cancer. These conditions can run in families. However, they can also start in the child due to a mutation in their DNA.

Research has linked childhood brain and other CNS tumours to the following conditions:

  • neurofibromatosis type 1 (von Recklinghausen disease)
  • neurofibromatosis type 2
  • tuberous sclerosis
  • von Hippel–Lindau syndrome
  • Li–Fraumeni syndrome
  • Gorlin syndrome
  • Turcot syndrome.

If your child has one of these genetic conditions, they will need specific care. Your health care team will talk to you about which ongoing tests your child will need.

Childhood cancers that are linked to genetic conditions may affect the risk for other family members. You can ask your child’s treatment team if you or your family should get genetic counselling.

For more information about genetic conditions, see the children’s cancer glossary or the Centre for Genetics Education.

Exposure to radiation

High doses of radiation to the head can increase a child’s risk of getting brain tumours later in life. This can also happen as a result of your child being treated for other cancers.