Although the risk factors contributing to the etiology of brain tumors remain largely unknown, this pilot study suggests that genetically determined sensitivity to environmental carcinogens may play a role in the pathogenesis of these tumors. In this study, we examined short-term lymphocyte cultures from 45 adult malignant glioma patients and 117 age-, sex-, and ethnicity-matched healthy controls for mutagen-induced chromatid breaks and evaluated their family history of cancer, smoking, and demographic variables to ascertain the association between mutagen sensitivity and risk of brain tumors. The mutagen selected was γ-radiation. The mean number of induced breaks/cell was 0.72 (SD = 0.45) for the cases and 0.45 (SD = 0.35) for the controls (P < 0.0001). Using the median number of induced breaks/cell in the controls as the breakpoint for defining mutagen sensitivity, we observed an unadjusted odds ratio of 5.36 (95% confidence interval = 2.12–13.69) for mutagen sensitivity and brain tumor risk and an adjusted odds ratio of 5.79 (2.26–14.83), when we controlled for epidemiological risk factors including smoking, race, income, and education. Although a larger study is needed to confirm this intriguing result, these preliminary findings suggest that increased sensitivity to radiation is an independent risk factor for gliomas.


Supported by NIH Grant P01 CA 55261, The Charlotte Geyer Foundation, and the Physicians Referral Service of The University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center, Houston, Texas.

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