Intestinal Cancer Risk Factors
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What Are the Risk Factors for Small Intestine Cancer?
The cause of small intestine cancer is not well understood. Some diseases and inherited factors may increase your risk. The statistics show that men are slightly more likely to develop the disease than women. Close to a third of all diagnoses are made after the age of 65.
Known small intestine cancer risk factors include:
- Age – According to the National Cancer Institute, the average age of diagnosis is 67. It seems the risk increases with age.
- Tobacco and Alcohol Use – There is a lot of evidence linking cigarette smoking and alcohol abuse to many types cancer. Some research suggests that smoking and drinking may also be associated with the development of small intestine cancer.
- Diet – Eating a high-fat diet may be a small intestine risk factor.
Gastrointestinal Diseases – Certain diseases that affect the gastrointestinal (GI) tract may increase the risk of developing small intestine cancer. For example, Crohn's disease is a condition in which the immune system harms the small intestine. If you have had colon cancer, you may also be at an increased risk for small intestine adenocarcinoma, possibly because both cancers share similar risk factors. The GI diseases that are considered risk factors for small intestine cancer are:
- Colon cancer
- Celiac disease
- Crohn's disease
- Inherited Conditions – Although most small intestine cancers occur without a known hereditary link, there are some inherited conditions that may lead to a higher risk. The inherited conditions associated specifically with small intestine adenocarcinoma are:
- Familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP)
- Hereditary nonpolyposis colorectal cancer (HNPCC), also called Lynch syndrome
- Peutz-Jeghers syndrome (PJS)
- Cystic fibrosis (CF)
Risk Factors Associated with Other Types of Small Intestine Cancer
Sarcomas of the small intestine
- Gardner Syndrome – Caused by a genetic defect, people with this syndrome often develop many polyps throughout the GI tract, particularly in the colon. Although there is a greater risk for developing colon cancer, this disease is considered a risk factor for sarcomas of the small intestine.
- Lymphedema – Damage to the lymph vessels (the vessels that connect the lymph nodes) or an infection may cause lymph fluid to build up. Lymphedema is also sometimes referred to as elephantiasis.
- Chemical Exposure – Certain chemicals, like vinyl chloride, dioxins and high doses of herbicides containing phenoxyacetic acid, are considered to be intestinal cancer risk factors for certain types of sarcomas, possibly including sarcomas in the small intestine.
Gastrointestinal stromal tumors (GIST) of the small intestine
- Von Recklinghausen's Disease – Neurofibromatosis, an inherited gene mutation, may lead to GISTs. However, there usually is no known cause for GISTs of the small intestine and hereditary links are rare.
Carcinoid tumors of the small intestine
- Inherited Conditions – People with either multiple endocrine neoplasia, type I (MEN1) or defects in the gene NF1 (type 1 neurofibromatosis) may develop benign tumors in the small intestine that are at risk of becoming malignant.
NOTE: Anything that increases your risk of getting a disease is called a risk factor. Having a risk factor does not mean you will get cancer. Nor does not having risk factors mean you will not get cancer. If you think you may be at risk, you should discuss it with your doctor.
Understanding Your Intestinal Cancer Risk Factors
You may want to talk to your doctor if a hereditary risk factor is suspected because a relative has had colon cancer or an associated genetic syndrome. More often, small intestine cancers occur without known cause. Nonetheless, family history is an important piece of the puzzle and may lead to a better understanding of the risk factors associated with this rare disease. Diets high in fiber may reduce your risk for small intestine adenocarcinoma.
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