Medically Reviewed by Dr. K. Updated as of May 24, 2022.
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The reality is that specialists do not know for sure what triggers neuroendocrine tumours (NETs). However, a number of factors will increase your risks of developing them. These are referred to as “risk factors". Some may be risk factors you have no control over, such as your age.
Keep in mind that having a higher risk for NETs does not guarantee that you will develop a tumour. However, if you catch yourself checking “yes" to some of the items on this article, you should consult your doctor.
Your Family History
Some diseases caused by genes passed down well over generations may increase the risk of developing a tumour. Some kinds of NETs are significantly more prone to develop if you have a parent that has one of these diseases:
- Form 1 multiple endocrine neoplasia (MEN1)
It's a disorder in which tumours develop in the cells that produce hormones, which are chemicals that influence things like hair development, sex drive, and mood.
The disorder is caused by a mutation in the MEN1 gene. This could be referred to as a “genetic mutation" by the doctor.
You could be more susceptible to cancers of the parathyroid gland, pituitary gland, and pancreas, and pancreatic NETs, if you have the disorder. A carcinoid tumour can grow in one out of every ten people with MEN1.
The majority of MEN1 tumours aren't cancerous. They will, however, trigger hormones that alter the way your body functions.
- Multiple endocrine neoplasia type 2 (MEN2).
It will increase the likelihood of thyroid, adrenal, and parathyroid gland tumours. MEN2 is divided into two categories.
A mutation in the RET gene is to blame.
Neuroendocrine tumours such as pheochromocytoma, medullary thyroid cancer, and parathyroid tumours are more common in people with MEN2.
- Neurofibromatosis type 1 (NF1)
Tumours grow along your nerves and skin as a result of this condition. If you have it, you might develop coloured spots on your skin known as café au lait spots.
This disorder is caused by mutations in the NF1 gene. The gene usually produces a protein named neurofibromin, which regulates cell growth. The cells can develop out of control and become cancer if the NF1 gene changes.
You're more prone to develop NETs like carcinoid tumours and pheochromocytoma if you have NF1.
- Von Hippel-Lindau syndrome (VHL)
It causes abnormal blood vessels, tumours, and fluid-filled sacs known as cysts to develop in various areas of the body.
The eyes, brain, pancreas, adrenal glands, kidneys, and spine are often affected by tumours. While most of them aren't cancerous, some of them will develop and spread. You're more prone to develop pheochromocytoma if you have VHL.
- Tuberous sclerosis complex (TSC)
Tumours in the brain, kidneys, heart, lungs, skin, and eyes grow as a result. While they aren't cancerous, they can trigger seizures and learning difficulties.
Changes in two genes, TSC1 and TSC2, trigger TSC. You're more prone to develop pancreatic NETs or carcinoid tumours if you have this disease.
Your doctor will screen you for the gene that triggers one of these disorders if it runs in your family. They will do a cancer screen so that you can be treated before they develop and trigger problems.
Age Makes a Difference
NETs impact individuals of all ages in different ways.
- Carcinoid tumours are more often discovered in people in their 50s and 60s.
- Pheochromocytoma typically appears between the ages of 40 and 60.
- Merkel cell cancer is most common in people over the age of 70.
Certain NETs are more likely to impact women than men. Pheochromocytoma and Merkel cell cancers are more common in men. The majority of carcinoid tumours are more common in women.
Carcinoid tumours of the stomach, intestines, and other parts of the GI tract are more common in African-Americans than in Caucasians.
Weakened Immune System
Your immune system is your body's pathogen fighting system. Anything that weakens your immune system, such as HIV or an organ transplant, will increase your risk of developing NETs.
Too Much Sun
Spending a lot of time outdoors over the years will raise the risk of developing Merkel cell carcinoma, a type of NET. UV rays from the sun cause DNA harm in your skin. This may lead to uncontrolled cell growth and the development of cancer.
Having Other Diseases
Carcinoid tumours may be exacerbated by diseases that influence how the stomach produces acid. These are some of them:
- Chronic atrophic gastritis
- Pernicious anemia
- Zollinger-Ellison syndrome
If you've had diabetes for a long period of time, you're more prone to develop NETs in your stomach and intestines.
You've seen how harmful it is to your health. But it's not all lung cancer to be concerned about. According to several studies, smoking raises the risk of small intestine carcinoid tumours.
Referenced on 3/5/2021
- American Cancer Society: “Do we know what causes Merkel cell carcinoma?"
- American Society of Clinical Oncology: “Multiple Endocrine Neoplasia Type 1." “Multiple Endocrine Neoplasia Type 2." “Neuroendocrine Tumor: Risk Factors." “Von Hippel-Lindau Syndrome."
- Cancer Research UK: “Risks and causes of carcinoid tumors."
- Hassan, MM. International Journal of Cancer, August 2008.
- Larson, AM. Clinical Genetics, December 2012.
- Macmillan Cancer Support: “Neuroendocrine Tumors."
- M.D. Anderson Cancer Center: “von Hippel Lindau Disease Facts."
- Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center: “About Pulmonary Neuroendocrine Tumors." “Gastrointestinal Carcinoid Tumors."
- National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases: “Multiple Endocrine Neoplasia Type 1."
- Penn Medicine: “All About Carcinoid and Neuroendocrine Tumors."
- Tuberous Sclerosis Alliance: “What is TSC?