Neuroendocrine tumors can occur throughout the body and are defined by their ability to excrete hormones into the bloodstream, which then cause the patient to have symptoms. When the endocrine system is functioning normally, many different types of endocrine cells produce a variety of hormones that regulate body functions, from metabolism to digestion to cardiovascular function.
Neuroendocrine tumors can occur anywhere in the body where these endocrine cells reside, including the pancreas, intestines, lungs, neck and brain. Tumors are classified by the hormones they produce. Symptoms caused by these tumors can be very peculiar because of the effects these hormone can have on the body.
Symptoms can range from stomach ulcers to blood sugar disturbances to heart valve disorders, and can often be difficult to diagnose because these symptoms can come on gradually over weeks to months. Some types of neuroendocrine tumors are associated with genetic mutations that can be passed from generation to generation; genetic testing can help both patients and their families.
Neuroendocrine tumors that originate in the pancreas or nearby intestine are called gastroenteropancreatic neuroendocrine tumors because of their location in the upper part of the abdomen. Symptoms from these tumors vary widely and are based on the hormones each type produces.
Carcinoid tumors are neuroendocrine tumors that produce a hormone called serotonin, which in high levels can cause flushing, palpitations and dizziness. These tumors usually originate in the intestine, but can also be found in the lungs or liver.
The treatment for neuroendocrine tumors depends on the type of tumor and whether the tumor has spread to other organs or tissues. Our physicians will recommend medication to treat the symptoms of hormone excess, as well as surgical removal of the tumor.
The medical outcomes and the cure rates of these tumors also vary widely, depending on the type of tumor and how early the diagnosis is made. Because patients with neuroendocrine tumors often require care provided across several specialties, a multidisciplinary approach can offer the best care and chance for cure.