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Brain Tumor Risk Greater in Women Who Begin Menstruation at Older Age, Study Reports

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Key Points

  • A study of 500 cases of glioma and 240 cases of meningioma at five cancer centers throughout the Southeast showed that women who began their menstrual cycle at age 15 or older had an increased risk of developing glioma compared with women who began menstruation at 12 or younger.
  • This suggests that the higher exposure to estrogen throughout the lifetime of women who began menstruation earlier may protect them from acquiring glioma.
  • Women who took oral contraceptives were less likely to develop glioma, and patients who underwent natural menopause had a higher risk of developing meningioma than premenopausal women.

Women who begin menstruation at an older age have a significantly increased risk of developing a brain tumor, a Moffitt Cancer Center study shows. The results are part of a large multicenter study to determine potential risk factors associated with the development of glioma and meningioma. The study was published in the April 4 issue of Journal of Neuro-Oncology.

Approximately 23,000 people are diagnosed with brain and nervous system cancers in the United States every year. Glioma is the most common and aggressive brain tumor. Meningiomas, on the other hand, are typically benign; however, they tend to be associated with poor health and are likely to recur after surgery.

“Interestingly, gliomas are more common in men while meningiomas are more common in women, and for both tumors, steroid hormones are thought to influence risk, though there is surprisingly limited supportive data,” said Kathleen M. Egan, ScD, lead study investigator and senior member of the Cancer Epidemiology Program at Moffitt. “Our study included a larger number of brain cancer patients than in many previous published studies focused on hormonal and reproductive risk factors in women.”

Study Details

Researchers analyzed patient records from more than 500 glioma and 240 meningioma cases at five cancer centers throughout the Southeast. They compared these results to approximately 700 age-matched control subjects from similar geographic areas and analyzed potential risk factors such as oral contraceptive use, and menstruation and childbirth history.

Women who begin their menstrual cycle at age 15 or older have an increased risk of developing glioma compared with women who begin menstruation at 12 or younger, the data show. This suggests that the higher exposure to estrogen throughout the lifetime of women who began menstruation earlier may protect them from acquiring glioma.

Other findings show that women who took oral contraceptives were less likely to develop glioma, and patients who underwent natural menopause had a higher risk of developing meningioma than premenopausal women.

The risk of acquiring glioma and meningioma was not significantly associated with number of children, age at first birth, age at menopause, or total years of menstruation.

The study was supported by a grant from the National Institutes of Health (R01 CA116174).

The content in this post has not been reviewed by the American Society of Clinical Oncology, Inc. (ASCO®) and does not necessarily reflect the ideas and opinions of ASCO®.


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