Neuroendocrine tumors grow in the specialized cells of the endocrine system, which is responsible for hormone production and helps regulate various processes in the body, such as metabolism, reproduction and growth. These tumors can be slow-growing, taking years to develop, or fast-growing. All neuroendocrine tumors are malignant, no matter how slow or fast they grow.
Most neuroendocrine tumors are found in the GI tract, specifically in the large intestine, the small intestine, the rectum and the appendix. Neuroendocrine tumors can also be found in the lungs, pancreas and other organs in the body. While they can present with symptoms typical of cancer—loss of appetite, unexplained weight loss, persistent pain—there can also be hormonal symptoms, such as:
- Skin rashes
- Flushed skin
- Frequent urination
- Increased thirst
- Dizziness or shakiness
- Hyperglycemia or hypoglycemia
Diagnosis and treatment
Neuroendocrine tumors are most commonly diagnosed with a biopsy, a procedure in which a small amount of tissue is removed and studied under a microscope by a pathologist. Other imaging tests may be recommended to grade the cancer or develop a treatment plan. These include MRIs, CT scans, endoscopies, PET scans, ultrasounds and other options.
After the diagnostic process, the cancer will be staged and graded. The stage of the tumor explains the tumor’s location, if and where it has spread and if any other parts of the body have been affected. The grade of the tumor describes how fast the tumor cells are growing and can be divided into three categories:
- Grade 1, a slow-growing, low-grade tumor
- Grade 2, an intermediate-grade tumor that has features of both Grade 1 and Grade 3 tumors
- Grade 3, a fast-growing, high-grade tumor
Treatment depends on the type, stage and grade of the tumor as well as the side effects the patient is experiencing and the overall health of the patient. A patient with a Grade 1 tumor may be eligible for surgery to remove the tumor while a patient with a Grade 3 tumor may only be eligible for chemotherapy.
Within the Gastrointestinal Oncology Program at Moffitt Cancer Center is a team of experts that provides a wide range of diagnostics, treatment and supportive care services for patients with neuroendocrine tumors. This multispecialty team has a high level of specialization, which is crucially important for individuals with such a rare form of cancer. Our patients benefit from the expertise of our neuroendocrine tumor specialists as well as our robust clinical trials program that offers promising new treatments for neuroendocrine tumors.