Neuroendocrine tumors

What are neuroendocrine tumors?

Neuroendocrine tumors are tumors that form in cells that release hormones into the blood in response to a signal from the nervous system. These tumors produce higher than normal amounts of hormones, which can cause very different symptoms in each patient.

Neuroendocrine tumors can be benign or malignant and can develop anywhere in the body, although the most common are:

  • Carcinoids
  • Islet cell tumors
  • Medullary thyroid tumors
  • Tumors in pheochromocytomas
  • Tumors in the neuroendocrine carcinoma of the skin
  • Tumors in the lung
  • Tumors in the pancreas

Prognosis of the disease

Neuroendocrine tumors have a slow progression, although they can become very aggressive. Each particular case is different, depending on the location of the tumor and whether it has caused metastasis, the prognosis may vary.

Currently there are effective treatments to combat this type of tumor such as surgery, some drugs and chemotherapy, among others. Although, as specified above, each case is different and, therefore, the evolution of the disease and its treatment will also be different.

Symptoms of neuroendocrine tumors

The symptoms may not be specific, since they may be confused for years by other pathologies and, thus, delay the diagnosis. The most common are facial skin flushing, diarrhea, sweating, abdominal pain and, less frequently, bronchospasm. They can also be common symptoms in diseases such as anxiety, depression, menopause and irritable bowel syndrome.

It should be noted that the organ affected by the tumor influences the symptoms, their evolution and recovery. In addition to the fact that they may vary in each patient.

Medical tests for neuroendocrine tumors

The diagnosis of neuroendocrine tumors will depend on the type of tumor, its location, whether or not it produces an excess of hormones and if it is aggressive and has spread to other parts of the body.

The specialist will evaluate the patient’s situation and, according to the patient’s history and symptoms, will decide which is the most effective method to make a good diagnosis.

Neuroendocrine tumors have a slow evolution and can develop over a period of years.

What are the causes of neuroendocrine tumors?

The main proven causes of neuroendocrine tumors are long-standing diabetes mellitus, diseases of the stomach affecting hydrochloric acid production and smoking.

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Although most are not due to genetic causes, they can also appear in the context of familial syndromes such as multiple endocrine neoplasia type 1.

Can it be prevented?

There is no specific method of preventing neuroendocrine tumors, although it is possible to try to minimize the main risk factors such as smoking and following a healthy diet.

Treatments for neuroendocrine tumors

The main treatments to combat neurodegenerative tumors are:

  • Surgery: this procedure is resorted to when the tumor is localized or limited to the organ where it originated. Although it can also be compatible when there is metastasis in other organs.
  • Locoregional and radionuclide treatments: these are specific therapies to control the symptoms of functional tumors with liver metastases, although they are sometimes used in non-functional tumors with inoperable liver disease. These therapies are used to reduce tumor volume, to reduce the release of substances into the blood from metastases and to control the growth of the pathology.
  • Drugs: tumors that cannot be removed and have spread to other parts of the body can be treated with drugs to prevent their growth.
  • Chemotherapy: this is a good method for neuroendocrine carcinomas whose cells are different in form and function from those of healthy tissue, as well as being aggressive. Also for inoperable metastatic pancreatic metastatic types.

On the other hand, being slow-growing tumors, the patient may have to live with it for a long period of time, so it is necessary to follow a diet recommended by the specialist because of the metabolic and nutritional changes that may occur. In addition, emotional therapies can also be effective for the patient to achieve the best possible quality of life.

Medications for neuroendocrine tumors

To prevent the growth and spread of the tumor it is possible to resort to drugs such as somatostatin analogues, which mimic the natural action of the hormone and reduce the secretion of certain substances in order to slow down the evolution of the tumor. In addition to therapies directed at molecular targets such as mTOR inhibitors and tyrosine kinase inhibitors.

Which specialist treats it?

The medical team in charge of the diagnosis and treatment of neuroendocrine tumors is multidisciplinary, since specialists in Oncology and Endocrinology may intervene, mainly, and depending on the area where the tumor is located, the participation of experts in other specialties may be required.