Risks and causes of carcinoid tumours
This page tells you about the risks and causes of carcinoid (neuroendocrine tumours).
Risk factors for carcinoid
Carcinoid tumours are rare. They are slightly more common in women than men. They can develop at any age but the average age of diagnosis is around 60. Carcinoid tumours are 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.
You have a higher risk of carcinoid if a close relative (a brother or sister, mother or father) has had carcinoid or another type of cancer.
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 a condition called Zollinger-Ellison syndrome, where the stomach lining makes too much stomach acid.
Having diabetes, or a history of cancer, can also increase your risk of carcinoid.
Possible risk factors for carcinoid tumours
Studies have not been conclusive, but it's possible that high saturated fat levels in the diet, smoking, and drinking alcohol increase the risk of some carcinoid tumours. Obesity and the use of hormone replacement therapy (HRT) may also increase the risk.
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.
Carcinoid tumours are rare. Around 2,900 people are diagnosed each year in the UK. It is getting more common across the world. This may be partly because there are better tests to diagnose carcinoid.
The average age people are diagnosed is around 60.
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.
Carcinoid tumours develop more often than usual in people who have a rare family syndrome called multiple endocrine neoplasia type 1 (MEN1). Around 1 in 10 people with MEN1 (10%) develop carcinoid tumours. They are more likely to be diagnosed with carcinoid at a younger age than average. Your doctor may ask you about your family history of cancer.
A Swedish 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 rare this risk is still small.
The study also showed that people have a slightly increased risk of carcinoid tumours if they have a parent with non Hodgkin lymphoma, or cancer of the brain, breast, liver, bladder or endocrine system. People with a brother or sister diagnosed with cancer of the bowel, brain, cervix or endocrine system also have an increased risk of carcinoid tumours. Other studies have found that a family history of any cancer increases the risk of carcinoid.
People with von Hippel-Lindau syndrome have a higher than normal risk of developing carcinoid of the pancreas.
Carcinoid is slightly more common in black people of African descent than in white people.
Overall, slightly more women than men develop carcinoid.
Studies have found that people who have diabetes for a long time have an increased risk of carcinoid tumours. The risk is especially increased in women.
If you have had cancer before, such as cancer of the food pipe (oesophagus), large bowel (colon), kidney, prostate or a lymphoma, you may have an increased risk of carcinoid of the small bowel.
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.
Some factors have been studied but it is not clear whether they increase the risk of carcinoid tumours. These include
A US study has shown that people who eat a lot of saturated fat have a higher risk of carcinoid tumours of the small bowel 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 may increase the risk of carcinoid tumours. And drinking alcohol may also increase the risk of some tumours, such as those in the pancreas. But we need larger studies to be sure.
A 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.
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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