Increased use of cell phones, genetics, old age, smoking...a lot of probable causes have been listed for development of brain tumors, but scientists are still far from knowing precisely which risk factors cause the tumors.

"Right now, we don't know who, we don't know when, and we don't know why people develop brain tumors," said Elizabeth M. Wilson, MNA, President and CEO, American Brain Tumor Association in a statement. "It's frustrating for the brain tumor community, and it's why the American Brain Tumor Association funds research to pursue answers to these questions, and it's why we host this national conference to provide answers families desperately seek."

The annual meeting of the American Brain Tumor Association (ABTA) Patient and Family Conference attempts to bring up-to-date research and advancements regarding brain tumors to the forefront. Jill Barnholtz-Sloan, PhD, Associate Professor, Case Comprehensive Cancer Center, Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine, will be the keynote speaker in this year’s conference, being held in Chicago on July 56-26. In her speech she will attempt to enlighten patients of the possible causes and risk factors for brain tumors.

As Dr. Barnholtz-Sloan explains that many environmental and genetic risk factors have been studied, but researchers have not uncovered factors that account for a large number of brain tumors. "Unlike the strong correlation between smoking and lung cancer, we just haven't found a specific risk factor like that for brain tumors," said Dr. Barnholtz-Sloan. "We have determined that ionizing radiation to the head is a risk factor when received in therapeutic doses, but even in those cases, the risk of developing a brain tumor is low." 

Dr. Barnholtz-Sloan also points out, "I want to reassure people that their brain tumor or their child's tumor is not the result of anything we currently know about that they have been exposed to or done, including using cell phones."

While it had been speculated earlier that cell phone use may cause brain tumors, recent research does not pinpoint any clear link between the two.  While earlier speculations had also predicted a rise in the number of brain tumor cases worldwide with the cell phone becoming an indispensable part of life in almost all parts of the globe, studies have shown there is no such risk.

There are other unproven causes besides cell phone use that are thought to cause brain tumors--power lines, cigarette smoking, most forms of diagnostic ionizing radiation, head trauma, exposure to air pollutants, and alcohol consumption. All these including environmental and genetic factors have been ruled out, but scientists are still a far shot away from identifying the cause of the condition that has affected nearly 700,000 people in the U.S. 

Brain tumors are the second leading cause of cancer-related deaths among children under the age of 20 and men between ages 20 to 39. Primary brain tumors that remain localized in the brain and do not spread to other parts of the body occur more frequently in children and older adults. Metastatic brain tumors begin as cancers in other parts of the body and then spread to the brain. These occur more in adults than in kids. While surgery is the first option to treat tumors in the brain, in certain cases they are present in areas where surgery cannot be performed. In such cases chemotherapy or radiation is the best bet.

The likely outcome of treatment depends on factors like type of tumor, grade of tumor cells, position in the brain, size and shape of the tumor, and also age of the patient. Being diagnosed with brain tumors is a traumatic event for the patient and the family. While patients fight at a personal level, centers like the American Cancer Society fight to eradicate the disease as a worldwide health problem by funding research to determine cause and prevention strategies. 

Source- Barnholtz-Sloan, Providing and Pursuing Answers: Advances in Research, Treatment and Care, American Brain Tumor Association patient and family conference, 2014.