Brain Tumors, High Tension Wires and Other Risk Factors

Last Modified: March 26, 2006


Dear OncoLink "Ask The Experts,"

My husband died of glioblastoma multiforme. Is there a link between this disease and exposure to the high tension electrical lines under which he worked?


Robert Lustig MD FACR, Clinical Associate Professor, Department of Radiation Oncology, University of Pennsylvania, responds:

There is no confirmed link between brain tumors and high tension electrical wires.

Aside from very rare cases of familial brain tumors, the cause of gliomas remains unknown.

Having said that, exposure to radiation has been linked to the development of certain types of primary brain tumors, especially if the exposure took place in childhood. Higher radiation doses are generally felt to increase the lifetime risk of developing a brain tumor, and radiation-induced brain tumors can take anywhere from 10-30 years to form.

Although many chemicals have been shown to cause brain tumors in laboratory animals, there have never been any definite, proven associations with chemical exposures. Chemicals that have been shown to cause brain tumors in animals include n-nitroso compounds, vinyl chloride, and certain organic solvents. However, when examining populations exposed to these various chemicals (like pesticide workers or workers in the petrochemical industry), there has never been any conclusive evidence to suggest that they get brain tumors at a higher rate than people without the chemical exposures.

Certain hereditary disorders can predispose someone to the development of certain brain tumors. Genetic diseases like neurofibromatosis type 1, neurofibromatosis type 2, von Hippel-Lindau disease, and tuberous sclerosis are all associated with an increased risk of developing a primary brain tumor.

With the recent popularity of cellular phones, many people have worried that their use may be a risk factor for developing brain tumors. However, there has never been any data to support this idea. In fact, a few studies have looked at this question and have always failed to show any correlation between cell phone use and brain tumors.