Neuroendocrine tumors are rare, accounting for less than one percent of all malignant disorders in the United States. It is estimated that fewer than 2,000 new cases occur in the United States each year.
These tumors can only be accurately diagnosed when a pathologist examines a tissue sample using specialized stains that help clarify the cells’ subtype. Urine also may be tested for elevated levels of specific products that are related to this type of cancer.
While some neuroendocrine tumors (Merkel’s cell, for example) possess clear structural characteristics, many are never distinguished beyond the broad category of “neuroendocrine carcinoma.”
Neuroendocrine carcinomas can originate in different locations including the gastrointestinal tract, lung, and brain. Some tumor cells produce hormones, while other cells cause no symptoms.
Symptoms of neuroendocrine carcinoma can include:
- Hyperglycemia (too much sugar in the blood)
- Hypoglycemia (too little sugar in the blood)
- Persistent pain in a specific area
- Loss of appetite/weight loss
- Persistent cough or hoarseness
- Thickening or lump in any part of the body
- Changes in bowel or bladder habits
- Unexplained weight gain or loss
- Jaundice (yellowing of the skin)
- Unusual bleeding or discharge
- Persistent fever or night sweats
- Gastric ulcer disease
Diagnosis and Treatment
Treatments include surgery, radiation therapy, or chemotherapy. Each of these treatments may be used by itself or in combination with another treatment.
Compared with more common malignant tumors, neuroendocrine tumors are slow-growing but can produce amino acids that cause severe symptoms. Aggressive therapy is recommended to lessen the severity of symptoms or to prevent possible harm to the liver.