Risks and causes of carcinoid tumours | Cancer Research UK
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Risk factors for carcinoid

Carcinoid tumours are rare. They are slightly more common in women than men. They are most common in middle aged people but can develop at any age. It is slightly more common in black people of African descent than in white people. Doctors think that most cases happen by chance but there are a few things that can increase the risk.

Family history and genetic syndromes

Carcinoid tumours develop more often than usual in people who have a rare family syndrome called multiple endocrine neoplasia type 1 (MEN1). People who have a condition called neurofibromatosis, von Hippel-Lindau syndrome or tuberous sclerosis also have a higher than normal risk of getting a carcinoid tumour of the small bowel.

You have a higher risk if a close relative (a brother or sister, mother or father) has carcinoid. Having a parent with squamous cell skin cancer, non Hodgkin lymphoma, or cancer of the brain, breast, liver, womb, bladder or kidney can also increase the risk. People with a brother or sister diagnosed with bowel or cervical cancer have a slightly increased risk of carcinoid tumours.

Medical conditions

If you have had a long term inflammation of the stomach lining called chronic atrophic gastritis you have a slightly higher risk of carcinoid of the stomach. You also have a higher risk of stomach carcinoid if you have MEN1 or a condition called Zollinger-Ellison syndrome, in which the stomach lining makes too much stomach acid. 

Possible risk factors for carcinoid tumours

Studies have not been conclusive, but it is possible that high saturated fat levels in the diet and smoking increase rates of carcinoid tumours. Obesity and the use of hormone replacement therapy (HRT) may also increase the risk of carcinoid tumours.

 

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What risk factors are

A risk factor is anything that can increase your chance of developing cancer. Different cancers have different risk factors.

Remember that having one or more risk factors does not mean that you will definitely get carcinoid. Many people with one or more risk factors never get carcinoid. And some people with none of the risk factors do develop carcinoid. Risk factors are only a guide to what may increase your risk.

 

How common carcinoid is

Carcinoid tumours are rare.Only 1,200 people are diagnosed each year in the UK. Carcinoid is slightly more common in women than men. It is most common after the age of 60, although anyone can develop it at any age. It is getting more common across the world. This may be partly because there are better tests to diagnose carcinoid. Unfortunately, there is very little information about what causes carcinoid, or increases your risk of developing it. Doctors think that most cases happen by chance.

 

Family history and genetic syndromes

Carcinoid tumours develop more often than usual in people who have a rare family syndrome called multiple endocrine neoplasia type 1 (MEN1). 1 in 10 people with MEN1 (10%) develop carcinoid tumours and they also have a higher risk than normal of tumours of the pituitary gland, pancreas and parathyroid gland. Your doctors may ask you about your family history of cancer to check if there are any other people with cancer in your family.

A large study has shown that children of parents with carcinoid tumour have a risk of carcinoid tumour that is 4 times higher than the general population. People with a brother or sister with carcinoid have a risk that is 3 times higher. But as carcinoid tumours are very rare this risk is still small. Less than 1 in 100 people (1%) diagnosed with carcinoid tumour have a family member with carcinoid. 

People also have a slightly increased risk of carcinoid tumour if they have a parent with squamous cell skin cancer, non Hodgkin lymphoma, or cancer of the brain, breast, liver, womb, bladder or kidney. People with a brother or sister diagnosed with bowel cancer or cervical cancer also have an increased risk of carcinoid tumours.

People who have the conditions neurofibromatosis or tuberous sclerosis also have a higher than normal risk of getting a carcinoid tumour of the stomach. Tuberous sclerosis is a genetic condition caused be a change in a gene. The symptoms vary from one person to another. Some people may have very few symptoms and others may be more severely affected. People may have non cancerous growths in different organs of the body, such as the brain, heart, eyes, skin, kidney, or lungs. Some people may also have epilepsy, learning disabilities, autism spectrum disorder and kidney problems. People who have tuberous sclerosis may have an increased risk of carcinoid tumours. But because both condition are very rare it is difficult to be sure.

People with von Hippel-Lindau syndrome have a higher than normal risk of developing carcinoid of the pancreas.

 

Ethnic background

Carcinoid is slightly more common in black people of African descent than in white people. 

 

Gender

Slightly more women than men develop carcinoid.

 

Diabetes

A US study found that people who have diabetes for a long time have an increased risk of carcinoid tumours in the stomach. The risk is especially increased in women.

 

Other medical conditions

If you have had a long term inflammation of the stomach lining called chronic atrophic gastritis you have a slightly higher risk of carcinoid of the stomach.

You also have a higher risk of stomach carcinoid if you have MEN1 or a condition called Zollinger Ellison syndrome, in which the stomach lining makes too much stomach acid. 

 

Possible risk factors for carcinoid tumours

Some factors have been studied but it is not clear whether they increase the risk of carcinoid tumours. These include

Saturated fats

A Swedish study has shown that people who eat a lot of saturated fat have a risk of carcinoid tumours of the stomach that is 3 or 4 times higher than people who have low levels of saturated fat in their diet. But we need more research to really know whether dietary fats affect the risk of carcinoid tumours.

Smoking

A small European study found that people who smoke have an increased risk of developing carcinoid of the small bowel and atypical lung carcinoids compared to non smokers. But we need bigger studies to confirm this.

Obesity

A recent study from the USA has shown that people who are morbidly obese have double the risk of carcinoid tumours of the small bowel compared to those with a healthy weight. Morbidly obese means you a  body mass index (BMI)  greater than 35.

Hormone replacement therapy (HRT)

The same study from the USA also suggested that current use of hormone replacement therapy is linked with doubling the risk of carcinoid tumours of the small bowel. More research is needed to look into the different types of hormone therapy and how long it is taken for, and its possible link with carcinoid tumours.

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Updated: 20 February 2014