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Neuroendocrine Cancer (NETs)
What is a neuroendocrine tumor (NET), and how does one get one? Until they are diagnosed, most people have little knowledge of neuroendocrine tumors. Finding out you have a neuroendocrine tumor can be a terrifying and stressful event. In this guide, we’ll provide information and tools to patients who have been diagnosed with neuroendocrine tumors.
What Is a Neuroendocrine Cancer Tumor?
Neuroendocrine cancer tumors or neuroendocrine neoplasms are cancerous tumors formed in neuroendocrine cells. It arises from cells of the endocrine (hormonal) and nervous systems. This is a rare kind of cancer that develops in neuroendocrine cells. They are also known by the following terms: carcinoid cancer, carcinoid tumors, or islet cell tumors.
Neuroendocrine tumors can develop practically anywhere in the body. They transmit information from the nervous to the endocrine systems. The endocrine system produces and releases hormones that regulate physiological activities such as blood pressure, heart rate, digestion, respiration, and blood sugar in response to these signals. However, the gastrointestinal tract (small intestine, rectum, stomach, colon, esophagus, appendix), lung, and pancreas (islet cells) are the most prevalent sites it occurs in.
Other organs they occur in include:
- Pituitary glands
The types of neuroendocrine cancer include:
An example of this would be Pheochromocytoma. Pheochromocytoma is a rare neuroendocrine tumor that develops in the middle of the adrenal glands. This is the area above each kidney and produces catecholamines, which aid in heart rate regulation.
This kind of neuroendocrine carcinoma is extremely uncommon, with the majority of cases originating in the gastrointestinal (GI) system. The GI system, which comprises the stomach, small intestine, colon, rectum, and appendix, is a portion of the body’s digestive system. Hormones that aid digestion is produced by GI neuroendocrine cells.
A carcinoid tumor may also be found in the lungs.
Merkel Cell Carcinoma
Merkel cells, which are found in the top layer of the skin near nerve endings that detect touch sensations, are the source of this aggressive neuroendocrine tumor. Merkel cell carcinoma is also known as cutaneous neuroendocrine carcinoma. It is especially common in sun-exposed parts of the skin.
Pancreatic Neuroendocrine Tumors
These tumors grow in your pancreas. There are a few kinds of them: Insulinomas, Glucagonomas, Gastrinomas, Somatostatinomas, and VIPomas
A paraganglioma is an abnormal growth of cells that forms from a specific type of nerve cell that’s found throughout the body. These specific nerve cells (chromaffin cells) perform important functions in the body, including regulating blood pressure.
This develops in the cells of the adrenal glands, which are located above the kidneys. It releases the chemicals adrenaline and noradrenaline, which can raise your blood pressure and heart rate. These tumors are usually non-cancerous.
Classification of Neuroendocrine Tumors
Neuroendocrine tumors can be defined in a variety of ways based on the location of the tumor, the appearance of the tumor cells under a microscope, and the rate at which the cells grow and divide.
NETs are also classified as “functional” or “non-functional.” Hormones and other chemicals that induce symptoms are produced and released by functional NETs. Carcinoid syndrome is one symptom of a “functional” NET, in which a chemical called serotonin is produced, causing diarrhea and flushing of the face.
Non-functional NETs may not release chemicals or release insufficient amounts to induce symptoms. Approximately 60% of NETs are non-functional. Due to this, NETs are frequently discovered at a later stage due to the lack of symptoms.
Symptoms of Neuroendocrine Cancer
Neuroendocrine tumors don’t usually show symptoms right away. Symptoms vary depending on where your tumor is located and if it releases excess hormones.
Signs and symptoms of a neuroendocrine tumor may include:
- Pain caused by a spreading tumor
- A swelling lump that can be felt under your skin
- Being abnormally fatigued
- Effortlessly losing weight
Functional tumors (neuroendocrine tumors that secretes excessive hormones) can cause:
- Incessant urination
- Increased thirst
- Rashes on skin
- Skin flushing
Neuroendocrine Tumor Prognosis
Many factors influence prognosis and survival. Only a doctor who is knowledgeable about your medical history, the neuroendocrine type and stage of cancer, the treatments you’ve selected, and your treatment response can combine all of this information with survival statistics to give you a prognosis.
Stage of the tumor, level of differentiation of tumor cells from normal cells, grade of how the NET cells are growing, and the level of CgA (Chromogranin A) and hormones are factors that are also considered.
Diagnosis and Treatment
Surgery, radiation therapy, and chemotherapy are all options for treatment. Each of these therapies can be used on its own or in conjunction with others.
Neuroendocrine tumors are slow-growing compared to more prevalent malignant tumors, but they can emit amino acids that cause serious symptoms. To minimize the severity of symptoms or to avoid potential liver damage, aggressive treatment is necessary.
For individuals with localized NETs, surgery to remove the main tumor is frequently the first-line therapy.
When a neuroendocrine tumor has spread or is in a place that makes surgery problematic, radiation treatment is usually performed.
This is the use of medications to either kill or prevent cancer cells from spreading. You can ingest them or have them injected by a doctor. For a few weeks, you may take a single drug or a combination of medications.
They can cause side effects — such as fatigue, nausea, vomiting, and hair loss — but they stop after your treatment is over. Chemo drugs affect everyone differently. Your doctor can tell you what you can do to feel better during treatment.
This can be used to treat NETs that have spread to your liver and that physicians are unable to eradicate through surgery. The objective is to cut off the blood supply that allows them to survive.
In a hospital, your doctor will insert a catheter, a thin, flexible tube, into the artery leading to the liver. Then they’ll inject a chemical into the artery to close it up. During the operation, you may be given chemotherapy or radiation.
A gastroenterologist may be required to clear clogs in the GI system and alleviate discomfort or breathing difficulties.
Carcinoid NETs are commonly treated with this method. It makes use of a synthetic form of the hormone somatostatin. These medications prevent the tumor from producing hormones that cause diarrhea and other symptoms of carcinoid disease. They may also help to shrink the tumor.
To destroy cancer cells involves medications that target specific genes or proteins on tumor cells. This treatment prevents harm to your body’s healthy cells, which might occur with radiation or chemotherapy.
Get Help Today
If you or a loved one have been diagnosed with neuroendocrine cancer, you don’t have to deal with it alone. Our team of kind professionals at All American Hospice would love to provide you with the care and sympathy you deserve. Reach out today to learn about our services.