Neuroendocrine Tumor Treatment Information

Neuroendocrine Tumor patient holding nurses hand

A neuroendocrine tumor is a type of cancer that forms in specialized cells that produce and release hormones into the bloodstream in response to messages received from the body’s nervous system. These important hormones regulate many vital bodily functions, including breathing and digestion.

Neuroendocrine cells are found throughout the body and are especially concentrated in the lungs and the gastrointestinal tract. For reasons that are not yet fully understood by scientists in the general medical community, these cells sometimes develop DNA mutations that cause them to excessively reproduce, creating an accumulation of abnormal cells that bind together and form tumors. In some cases, experts believe there may be a hereditary link. For instance, some neuroendocrine tumors can be traced to a genetic defect, such as a damaged MEN1 or NF1 tumor suppressor gene, which was passed from a parent to a child.

What are the symptoms of a neuroendocrine tumor?

Neuroendocrine tumors tend to be small and slow-growing, and they are often silent in their earliest stages. When symptoms develop, they can vary depending on the location of the tumor and whether it produces excess hormones. Possible signs can include:

  • Pain or a sensation of fullness in the stomach
  • A palpable lump
  • Unusual fatigue
  • Unintended weight loss
  • Skin rashes and facial flushing
  • Wheezing and shortness of breath
  • Excessive thirst and frequent urination
  • Swelling in the feet and ankles
  • Diarrhea
  • Dizziness and shakiness

How is a neuroendocrine tumor diagnosed?

Patient undergoing a PET scanIf a neuroendocrine tumor is suspected, a physician will typically perform a series of diagnostic tests, which may include:

  • A physical examination and a medical history review
  • Lab testing, such as a urinalysis and bloodwork
  • Imaging scans, such as X-rays, ultrasounds, computed tomography (CT) scans, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans and positron emission tomography (PET) scans with a radioactive tracer injected into a vein
  • A biopsy, which involves collecting a small sample of suspicious cells for analysis by a pathologist for evidence of cancer

How are neuroendocrine tumors treated?

Neuroendocrine tumor treatment can vary depending on multiple factors, such as the size, type, and location of the tumor and whether it is producing excess hormones or affecting certain organs. Many patients elect to receive a combination of treatments, which may include:

  • Surgery – In many cases, a resection is performed to remove as much of the tumor as possible along with a margin of surrounding healthy tissue. Some possible alternatives to a traditional surgical procedure include cryosurgery, fulguration and radiofrequency ablation, which can destroy cancerous cells without physically removing them from the patient’s body.
  • Chemotherapy – After being delivered intravenously or orally, powerful cancer-fighting medications can enter the bloodstream and travel throughout the body to target and destroy widespread cancer cells. In addition to treating a neuroendocrine tumor that has metastasized, chemotherapy can be used after surgery to help prevent a cancer recurrence or as an alternative to surgery for treating an unresectable tumor.
  • Targeted therapy – A cornerstone of precision cancer medicine, targeted drug treatments focus on precise genes and proteins found in neuroendocrine tumors that help the cancer cells grow, divide and spread. By interfering with these specific molecular targets, targeted therapies can be effective in destroying cancer cells while sparing healthy cells.
  • Peptide receptor radionuclide therapy (PRRT) – Administered intravenously, PRRT combines a drug that targets cancer cells with a small amount of a radioactive substance, allowing the radiation to be delivered directly to a tumor.
  • Hormone therapy – If a neuroendocrine tumor is expressing excess hormones, hormone therapy may be considered to control their release as well as the growth of the tumor and the resulting symptoms.
  • Radiation therapy – A linear accelerator can be used to generate high-energy beams, such as X-rays and protons, to destroy cancerous cells. Located outside the patient’s body, the linear accelerator can be programmed to target the powerful beams directly at a tumor.

Benefit from the latest treatment options at Moffitt Cancer Center

Moffitt Cancer Center takes a unique and collective approach to neuroendocrine tumor treatment. The multispecialty team in our renowned Gastrointestinal Oncology Program brings together a group of highly specialized oncologists who work collaboratively to develop individualized treatment plans to meet the precise needs of our patients. We are proud to offer the latest options in neuroendocrine tumor treatment, including promising new therapies available only through our robust clinical trials program.

Our neuroendocrine tumor team closely monitors the progress of each patient, adjusting and fine-tuning his or her treatment as appropriate. We also have a tumor board that meets regularly to review complex cases and exchange ideas. At Moffitt, we treat more than cancer—we treat people. Ultimately, our goal is to help each patient achieve the best possible outcome and quality of life.

Your cancer diagnosis is a top priority of the multispecialty team at Moffitt. If you are interested in exploring your neuroendocrine tumor treatment options with a specialist, you can rapidly connect with an experienced oncologist at Moffitt by calling 1-888-663-3488 or completing our new patient registration form online. We will help you get started on a personalized treatment plan right away, then support you with compassionate care throughout your journey to better health.