The Skinny on Neuroendocrine Cancer

Neuroendocrine tumors develop in the cells of the neuroendocrine system, a network of glands throughout the body that produce hormones. Neuroendocrine tumors are rare, typically affecting 1 – 2 people per 100,000 people.

The different types of neuroendocrine tumors depend on the particular cells that are affected.  They usually develop in the digestive system and the lungs.  Approximately 38% of tumors are in the appendix, 23% in the ileum (also known as carcinoids), 13% in the rectum and 11.5% in the bronchi.

Symptoms of Neuroendocrine tumors

Neuroendocrine tumors may be slow growing (low grade or well differentiated) or rapidly growing (high grade or poorly differentiated).  They may be functional (release hormones) or nonfunctional.  When functional neuroendocrine tumors release a variety of hormones including a hormone called serotonin, a condition called carcinoid syndrome may occur. Symptoms most commonly associated with neuroendocrine tumors include flushing, diarrhea, weight loss, abdominal pain and cramping.   Patients with carcinoid syndrome may also experience cardiac changes, which are caused from fibrotic damage to the heart.  Usually a patient with carcinoid syndrome does not experience these symptoms until the tumor has spread within the body.

Other terms used for neuroendocrine tumors include
• Gastroenteropancreatic neuroendocrine tumors – tumors in the gut or pancreas
• Pancreatic neuroendocrine tumors – also known as islet cell cancer, or PNET
• Gastrointestinal neuroendocrine tumors – tumors that develop in the bowel, stomach or esophagus
• Pheochromocytoma of the adrenal gland
• Carcinoid tumors of the lung or intestinal tract
• Carcinoid Syndrome
• Gastrinoma, Insulinoma, Glucagonoma, VIPoma (vasoactive intestinal peptide tumor)

Treatment of neuroendocrine tumors

Treating neuroendocrine tumors can be a challenge due to the various types, locations in the body, the symptoms they produce and the diverse number of treatment modalities. Treatment is individualized to  each patient but can include surgery, liver directed therapy, medications, and/or radiation.

When treating a rare, challenging cancer such as neuroendocrine cancer, it is important to have a team of healthcare professionals at your side who are experts in the  disease and can collaborate to create a treatment plan individualized to each patient.

At Winship Cancer Institute of Emory University, we take this multidisciplinary approach with teams of  expert medical oncologists, surgical oncologists, interventional oncologists, gastroenterologists, pulmonologists, endocrinologists, nurses, and dieticians ( just to name a few) to create a care plan unique to each patient.

About Bonnie Josaphs, RN, BSN, OCN

Ms. Josaphs received her Bachelor of Science in Nursing from the University of Delaware, Newark, Delaware in 2002. She has been practicing within Gastrointestinal (GI) Oncology since 2004.  She specializes in gastrointestinal cancers which include cancers of the esophagus, liver, colon, rectum, pancreas, gallbladder and stomach.

Related Links

More information on neuroendocrine tumors:
Winship Cancer Institute Clinical Trials for Neuroendocrine Tumors
 The Winship Cancer Institute of Emory University is Georgia’s only NCI-designated Cancer Center.

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