Symptoms & Risks

What is neuroendocrine cancer or neuroendocrine carcinoma?

Neuroendocrine cancer starts in the part of our body that helps our body communicate. Our body’s organs need to communicate with each other for our body to function together. Tiny cells are scattered throughout our GI tract and the lungs that act as signals or switches. These cells, called neuroendocrine cells, send chemical signals (also known as hormones) to other organs. For example, when the stomach senses food it will send a chemical signal from the neuroendocrine cells of the stomach to the pancreas and intestine telling it to start getting ready for digestion to start. Or when the pancreas and intestine sense food particles they can send signals back to the stomach. When these neuroendocrine cells develop into a cancer it is called a neuroendocrine tumor. NET is a shortened version used by some to indicate neuroendocrine tumors.

Is a carcinoid tumor the same thing?

Yes, carcinoid tumor is an older terminology that has persisted. Usually, the term carcinoid is used for neuroendocrine tumors of the small intestine and lung. It can be considered a subtype of neuroendocrine tumors and the terms are often used interchangeably. Although the term carcinoid is commonly used by doctors and patients, neuroendocrine tumor is the preferred term.

What are the symptoms of neuroendocrine cancer?

When neuroendocrine tumors (NET) continue to make the chemical signals or hormones they can produce some very dramatic symptoms. Most neuroendocrine tumors are non-functioning which means as they developed into a tumor or cancer they lost the ability to make these hormones, therefore they do not produce symptoms of the hormone in excess. Most of the nonfunctioning tumors will have symptoms related to twisting/ blockage of the intestine or the pressure from the growth on other organs. Commonly these tumors are found incidentally or accidentally when X-rays (especially CT scans) are ordered for other reasons.

What is carcinoid syndrome?

Carcinoid syndrome is a group of symptoms that occur when a patient has a certain type of NET that continues to make the hormones/chemical signals that were part of the original job of the cell that the tumor mutated. The term is usually associated with tumors that start in the small intestine and spread to the liver. The chemical serotonin is made and causes the symptoms. The symptoms can be flushing, wheezing and sometimes diarrhea or abdominal cramping.