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A risk factor is anything that increases a person’s chance of developing a tumor. Although risk factors often influence the development of a tumor, most do not directly cause the disease. Some people with several risk factors never develop a tumor, while others with no known risk factors do. However, knowing your risk factors and talking about them with your doctor may help you make more informed lifestyle and health care choices.
The majority of GISTs develop for no known reason, called sporadic. Doctors are rarely able to find a specific risk factor for patients diagnosed with GIST, other than the hereditary syndromes discussed below.
Family history. GIST rarely runs in families, and having a family member with GIST does not always increase your risk of developing the disease. Hereditary syndromes that can increase the risk of GIST include neurofibromatosis Type 1 (NF1) and Carney-Stratakis Dyad.
Most often, GIST, including non-hereditary tumors, begins because of genetic mutations (changes). The two most common genes affected are called KIT and platelet-derived growth factor receptor (PDGFR). Increasingly, researchers are finding mutations in other genes, such as a protein called succinate dehydrogenase (SDH), or BRAF, a gene occasionally changed in patients with melanoma or colorectal cancer. Testing for these mutations may be available at hospitals that specialize in treating GIST. Researchers continue to look for specific genes and other syndromes that may be related to the development of GIST and which may be used to help choose a patient’s treatment options.
Because no non-hereditary, preventable risk factors have been found, there is no good way to prevent GIST.