NET (Neuroendocrine Tumour)

Neuroendocrine Tumour (NET) sometimes referred to as carcinoids, are abnormal growths that start in the neuroendocrine cells. Neuroendocrine cells are dispersed widely throughout the body, including the stomach, bowel and lungs.

Causes and Risk Factors of Neuroendocrine Tumours

Neuroendocrine tumours are rare, and their cause is unknown. They are usually associated with the following:

  • Age: Neuroendocrine tumours are most common in people over the age of 60
  • Patients suffering from multiple endocrine neoplasia also have an increased risk of developing neuroendocrine tumours.

Signs and symptoms of Neuroendocrine Tumours

Different neuroendocrine tumours will present different symptoms. The symptoms of neuroendocrine tumours largely depend on the location of the tumour, and may include:

  • Flushing in the face or neck without sweating
  • Diarrhoea
  • Shortness of breath, quick heartbeat
  • High blood pressure
  • Fatigue, weakness
  • Abdominal pain, cramping, feeling of fullness
  • Unexplained weight gain or loss
  • Wheezing, coughing
  • Swelling in the feet and ankles
  • Skin lesions, discoloured patches of skin, thin skin
  • Frequent urination, increased thirst, increased hunger (high blood glucose)
  • Shakiness, dizziness, sweating, fainting (Low blood glucose)

Diagnosis of Neuroendocrine Tumours

Each type of neuroendocrine tumour requires a specific type of diagnosis. This will largely depend on the location of the tumour, its hormone production level, and whether it has spread to other organs. Test that are usually performed to diagnose neuroendocrine tumours may include:

  • Lab tests, cytopathology
  • Biopsy, endoscopic ultrasound
  • ERCP
  • CT scan, CT angiography
  • MRI
  • Laparoscopy
  • Nuclear medicine imaging
  • Genetic testing

Treatment of Neuroendocrine Tumours

The treatment for neuroendocrine tumours also depend on the location and type of the tumour. Treatment options may include:

  • Surgery – the doctor may want to completely remove the tumour
  • Somatostatin analogues – drugs used to relieve carcinoid syndrome symptoms. They block the body from producing excess hormones, and stunts the growth of neuroendocrine tumours.
  • Chemotherapy- it may be used to shrink the tumours, which will reduce the symptoms.
  • Targeted therapies – drugs used to slow down the growth of cancer cells.
  • Interferon alpha – a protein that occurs naturally in the body. When cancer patients take this medication, it can help the immune system destroy cancer cells.
  • Radiotherapy – high-energy x-rays to destroy cancer cells without causing too much harm to the healthy cells.
  • Targeted radionuclide therapy – a radioactive substance is taken orally or injected into the bloodstream. The tumour will absorb all the radiation with only a small amount possibly affecting healthy tissues.