Neuroendocrine Tumor

What is a Neuroendocrine Tumor?

Neuroendocrine tumors are neoplasms that affect endocrine and nervous cells. There are several different types of neuroendocrine tumors and they can appear in different parts of your body.

They grow in the cells of the body that produce hormones like the pancreas, thyroid, pituitary gland but can also appear in  lungs, stomach, or very often,  intestines. They can be cancerous, which means they can also spread but can also be benign, or non-cancerous. Most neuroendocrine tumors grow over a period of years.

What are the Symptoms of Neuroendocrine Tumors?

The symptoms of a neuroendocrine tumor will vary according to where in your body it is located. Diarrhea, pain, fever, headache, and unexplained weight loss are some of the more common symptoms.

Other typical symptoms are rashes, yellow toned skin, bleeding, and appetite loss. A tumor in the pancreas might also have symptoms like dizziness, extreme hunger, and a fast heartbeat. A carcinoid tumor might present  signs like coughing or trouble breathing.

Neuroendocrine Tumors Causes

While doctors and researchers do know what causes tumors to form, they are not completely clear on what causes neuroendocrine tumors. Some risk factors for individual forms of neuroendocrine tumors differ, but you are more likely to be at risk if you have a family history of any of the following conditions:

  • Multiple endocrine neoplasia types 1 & 2 (MEN1 and MEN2)
  • Neurofibromatosis type 1 (NF1)
  • Von Hippel-Lindau syndrome (VHL)

Other medical conditions that put you at risk of developing neuroendocrine tumors are:

  • having a suppressed immune system because of a recent organ transplant or HIV
  • Merkel cell polyomavirus (MCV)
  • Chronic atrophic gastritis
  • Pernicious anemia
  • Zollinger-Ellison syndrome
  • Diabetes

Men are more likely to develop certain forms of neuroendocrine tumors, while women are more likely to develop others. Overall, ethnicity is not a risk factor in regards to this condition, but white people are more likely to develop some forms of it than others.

Certain lifestyle choices also put you at greater risk for developing neuroendocrine tumors. Researchers are finding links between smoking and this condition. Too much sun exposure can cause a specific type of neuroendocrine tumor called Merkel cell carcinoma, as can exposure to arsenic.

How is a Neuroendocrine Tumor Treated?

The type of treatment that is recommended by your doctor will depend on where the tumor started, whether it has spread, if it is cancerous or not.  If the tumor is not growing, treatment may not even be required.

Different types of surgery are usually the first course of action.  Hepatic artery embolization uses drugs to attack a tumor in the liver and prevent blood from feeding it. Cryosurgery freezes the tumor with intensely cold gas or liquid. Radiofrequency ablation kills the tumor with energy heat. Fulguration kills the tumor with an electric current.

Medications may be prescribed to treat the symptoms of the neuroendocrine tumor. Hormone therapy may also slow down a tumor’s growth or kill the tumor altogether.

Neuroendocrine Tumors Prevention

Prevention of this condition is difficult because the exact causes are not known. However, people with a family history of MEN1, MEN2, NF1, or VHL should undergo genetic testing and consult with their doctors about the risk of them developing this condition.

Individuals at greater risk of developing neuroendocrine tumors because of a suppressed immune system, MCV, chronic atrophic gastritis, pernicious anemia, Zollinger-Ellison syndrome or diabetes should meet with their doctors and develop a plan for early detection and treatment of this condition if it develops.

Limiting sun exposure and exposure to arsenic can prevent Merkel cell carcinoma.