Nervous system (NS) Tumors in Cancer Predisposition Syndromes

Neurotherapeutics. 2022 Oct;19(6):1752-1771. doi: 10.1007/s13311-022-01277-w. Epub 2022 Sep 2.


Genetic syndromes which develop one or more nervous system (NS) tumors as one of the manifestations can be grouped under the umbrella term of NS tumor predisposition syndromes. Understanding the underlying pathological pathways at the molecular level has led us to many radical discoveries, in understanding the mechanisms of tumorigenesis, tumor progression, interactions with the tumor microenvironment, and development of targeted therapies. Currently, at least 7-10% of all pediatric cancers are now recognized to occur in the setting of genetic predisposition to cancer or cancer predisposition syndromes. Specifically, the cancer predisposition rate in pediatric patients with NS tumors has been reported to be as high as 15%, though it can approach 50% in certain tumor types (i.e., choroid plexus carcinoma associated with Li Fraumeni Syndrome). Cancer predisposition syndromes are caused by pathogenic variation in genes that primarily function as tumor suppressors and proto-oncogenes. These variants are found in the germline or constitutional DNA. Mosaicism, however, can affect only certain tissues, resulting in varied manifestations. Increased understanding of the genetic underpinnings of cancer predisposition syndromes and the ability of clinical laboratories to offer molecular genetic testing allows for improvement in the identification of these patients. The identification of a cancer predisposition syndrome in a CNS tumor patient allows for changes to medical management to be made, including the initiation of cancer surveillance protocols. Finally, the identification of at-risk biologic relatives becomes feasible through cascade (genetic) testing. These fundamental discoveries have also broadened the horizon of novel therapeutic possibilities and have helped to be better predictors of prognosis and survival. The treatment paradigm of specific NS tumors may also vary based on the patient's cancer predisposition syndrome and may be used to guide therapy (i.e., immune checkpoint inhibitors in constitutional mismatch repair deficiency [CMMRD] predisposition syndrome) [8]. Early diagnosis of these cancer predisposition syndromes is therefore critical, in both unaffected and affected patients. Genetic counselors are uniquely trained master's level healthcare providers with a focus on the identification of hereditary disorders, including hereditary cancer, or cancer predisposition syndromes. Genetic counseling, defined as "the process of helping people understand and adapt to the medical, psychological and familial implications of genetic contributions to disease" plays a vital role in the adaptation to a genetic diagnosis and the overall management of these diseases. Cancer predisposition syndromes that increase risks for NS tumor development in childhood include classic neurocutaneous disorders like neurofibromatosis type 1 and type 2 (NF1, NF2) and tuberous sclerosis complex (TSC) type 1 and 2 (TSC1, TSC2). Li Fraumeni Syndrome, Constitutional Mismatch Repair Deficiency, Gorlin syndrome (Nevoid Basal Cell Carcinoma), Rhabdoid Tumor Predisposition syndrome, and Von Hippel-Lindau disease. Ataxia Telangiectasia will also be discussed given the profound neurological manifestations of this syndrome. In addition, there are other cancer predisposition syndromes like Cowden/PTEN Hamartoma Tumor Syndrome, DICER1 syndrome, among many others which also increase the risk of NS neoplasia and are briefly described. Herein, we discuss the NS tumor spectrum seen in the abovementioned cancer predisposition syndromes as with their respective germline genetic abnormalities and recommended surveillance guidelines when applicable. We conclude with a discussion of the importance and rationale for genetic counseling in these patients and their families.

Keywords: Brain tumor; Cancer genetics; Cancer predisposition syndromes; Nervous system surveillance of genetic syndromes.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Brain Neoplasms* / genetics
  • Child
  • DEAD-box RNA Helicases / genetics
  • Genetic Predisposition to Disease
  • Humans
  • Li-Fraumeni Syndrome* / epidemiology
  • Li-Fraumeni Syndrome* / genetics
  • Neoplastic Syndromes, Hereditary* / diagnosis
  • Neoplastic Syndromes, Hereditary* / genetics
  • Neoplastic Syndromes, Hereditary* / therapy
  • Neurofibromatosis 1*
  • Ribonuclease III / genetics
  • Tumor Microenvironment


  • DICER1 protein, human
  • Ribonuclease III
  • DEAD-box RNA Helicases

Supplementary concepts

  • Turcot syndrome
  • Tuberous Sclerosis 1