Neuroendocrine Tumor: Risk Factors

Approved by the Cancer.Net Editorial Board, 11/2016

ON THIS PAGE: You will find out more about the factors that increase the chance of developing this type of tumor. To see other pages, use the menu.

A risk factor is anything that increases a person’s chance of developing a tumor. Although risk factors often influence the development of a neuroendocrine tumor, most do not directly cause it. 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 following factors can raise a person's risk of developing a neuroendocrine tumor:

  • Age. Pheochromocytoma is most common in people between the ages of 40 and 60. Merkel cell cancer is most common in people older than 70.

  • Gender. Men are more likely to develop pheochromocytoma than women. For every 2 women who develop pheochromocytoma, 3 men will develop the disease. Men are also more likely to develop Merkel cell cancer than women.

  • Race/ethnicity. White people are most likely to develop Merkel cell cancer; however, some black people and people of Polynesian descent develop the disease.

  • Family history. Ten percent (10%) of pheochromocytomas are linked to hereditary, or genetic, causes. Multiple endocrine neoplasia type 1 (MEN1) is a hereditary condition that increases the risk of developing a tumor in the pituitary gland, parathyroid gland, and pancreas. Multiple endocrine neoplasia type 2 (MEN2) is a hereditary condition associated with medullary thyroid cancer and other types of cancer, including pheochromocytoma.

  • Immune system suppression. People with human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), the virus that causes acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS), and people whose immune systems are suppressed because of an organ transplant have a higher risk of developing a neuroendocrine tumor.

  • Merkel cell polyomavirus (MCV). Research indicates that there is a link between this virus and Merkel cell cancer. MCV is present in up to an estimated 80% of Merkel cell cancers. However, scientists believe MCV is common, while Merkel cell cancer is not. More research is needed to learn the role of MCV.

  • Arsenic exposure. Exposure to the poison arsenic may increase the risk of Merkel cell cancer.

  • Sun exposure. Because Merkel cell cancer often occurs on the sun-exposed areas of the head and neck, many doctors think that sun exposure may be a risk factor for this type of cancer. Learn more about protecting your skin from the sun.

The next section in this guide is Symptoms and Signs. It explains what body changes or medical problems this disease can cause. Or, use the menu to choose another section to continue reading this guide.