Risks and causes of pancreatic NETs

There are some factors that increase your risk of developing a neuroendocrine tumour (NET). This includes some medical conditions. But having a risk factor doesn't mean that you will definitely develop a NET of the pancreas. 

These risk factors are for all types of pancreatic NETs.

Medical conditions

MEN1 is a rare inherited condition in which 2 or more tumours develop in the pancreas, parathyroid gland and pituitary gland. Tumours can also develop in the bowel, stomach and adrenal glands. The tumours can be benign or malignant (a cancer). 

Studies have shown that people who have MEN1 have a higher risk of developing pancreatic NETs. Up to 54 out of every 100 people (up to 54%) who have MEN1 develop a type of pancreatic NET.

Neurofibromatosis type 1 (NF1) is caused by a change in the NF1 gene. The faulty gene is usually passed on from parents to their children. 

Some researchers think this condition gives you a higher risk of developing different tumours. This includes a type of pancreatic NET called somatostatinoma.

VHL is a rare inherited condition caused by a change in the von Hippel-Lindau gene. It can affect different parts of the body. People who have this condition have an increased risk of developing different types of tumours, including pancreatic NETs.

Up to 12 out of 100 people (up to 12%) who have VHL, develop a pancreatic NET.

This is a rare inherited condition that causes tumours to develop in different parts of the body. Most tumours are benign (not cancer). 

Researchers think that people who have tuberous sclerosis may have a higher risk of developing a pancreatic NET. But this is rare.

Other risk factors

Pancreatic NETs are more common in middle aged people. The average age of diagnosis is between 50 and 60 years old.

Smoking is the biggest preventable cause of cancer. There is some evidence that smoking can also increase the risk of developing pancreatic NETs. 

Even light or occasional smoking increases the risk of cancer. But your risk increases more the longer you smoke and the more you smoke. If you are a smoker, the best thing you can do for your health is quit.

There is some evidence that suggests drinking heavily may increase the risk of pancreatic NETS.

The UK government guidelines advise both men and women to drink no more than 14 units of alcohol a week.

Diabetes is a disease that causes the blood sugar level to increase. There is some evidence that people with diabetes have an increased risk of developing a pancreatic NET.

Diabetes is a common disease. Most people with diabetes will not develop a NET of the pancreas.

Researchers have found that your risk of developing a pancreatic NET might be higher if you have a close relative (such as a parent or sibling) who has had cancer.

Other possible causes

Stories about potential causes of cancer are often in the media. It isn’t always clear which ideas are supported by good evidence.

You might hear about possible causes we haven’t included here. This is because there is no evidence about them or because the evidence isn’t clear.

  • ENETS Consensus Guidelines Update for the Management of Patients with Functional Pancreatic Neuroendocrine Tumors and Non-Functional Pancreatic Neuroendocrine Tumors
    M Falconi and others
    Neuroendocrinology, 2016. Vol103, Pages 153–171

  • Neuroendocrine tumors of the gastro-entero-pancreatic system
    S Massironi and others
    World Journal of Gastroenterology, 2008. Vol 14, issue 35, pages 5377-5384

  • Pancreatic neuroendocrine tumors: clinical features, diagnosis and medical treatment: Advances
    T Ito and others
    Best Practice & Research Clinical Gastroenterology, 2012. Vol 26, issue 6, pages 737-753

  • Neuroendocrine tumors of the pancreas
    F Ehehalt and others
    The oncologist, 2009. Vol 14, pages 456-467

  • ENETs consensus guidelines for the management of patients with digestive neuroendocrine neoplasms: functional pancreatic endocrine tumor syndromes
    R Jensen and others
    Neuroendocrinology, 2012. Vol 95, pages 98-119

  • Risks factors for neuroendocrine neoplasms: a systematic review and meta-analysis
    E Leoncini and others
    Annals of oncology, 2016. Vol 27, issue 1, pages 68-81

Last reviewed: 
28 Jun 2021
Next review due: 
28 Jun 2024

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