What is Neuroendocrine Cancer?The neuroendocrine system consists of neuroendocrine cells, which are spread throughout the body and act like nerve cells (or neurons). They produce hormones in response to signals from your body’s nervous system. This controls many different bodily functions. Neuroendocrine cancer is a type of rare cancer that affects the cells in the body’s neuroendocrine system. It consists of neuroendocrine tumours (NETs) growing on neuroendocrine cells. Since there are many neuroendocrine cells throughout the body, the symptoms can vary depending on the location of a tumour. Most NETs grow slowly compared to other types of tumour. This gives doctors the opportunity to target a tumour and shrink remove them. If you notice any symptoms associated with Neuroendocrine Cancer, it is always best to contact your doctor for a check-up.
Types of Neuroendocrine Cancer:There are many different types of neuroendocrine tumours. Neuroendocrine cancer can occur in the following places:
- The pancreas
- The thyroid gland
- The adrenal gland
- The pituitary gland
- Beneath the skin (Merkel cell cancer)
Causes and Risk Factors of Neuroendocrine Cancer:A risk factor is something that increases the likelihood of someone developing a tumour. The following factors are associated with an increased risk of neuroendocrine tumours:
- Exposure to the sun – Merkel cell cancer is a form of neuroendocrine cancer which develops beneath the skin. It is known to develop on areas that are susceptible to sunburns (such as the neck).
- Age – Neuroendocrine cancer is most common amongst people aged over 40. Pheochromocytoma (adrenal gland tumours) occur most frequently between ages 40-60, whereas Merkel cell cancer is most common in people aged over 70.
- Gender – Neuroendocrine tumours are more common in men than women.
- Weak immune system – People who have weak immune systems are more prone to developing neuroendocrine cancer. Weak immune systems are caused by conditions such as HIV, rheumatoid arthritis and Crohn’s disease weaken the immune system and increase the risk of this cancer developing.
Symptoms of Neuroendocrine Cancer:Since there are so many types of neuroendocrine cancer, symptoms will vary. Below are a list of common neuroendocrine cancers and the symptoms associated with them: Pheochromocytoma (adrenal gland tumours):
- High blood pressure
- Nausea and vomiting
- High temperature
- Increased pulse and heart palpitations
- Small, painless lumps on the skin. Often around the head or neck.
- Lumps bleeding after very minor trauma (shaving, etc).
- Vision problems
- Mood changes, irritability and increased fatigue
- Changes in the reproductive cycle for women
- Erectile dysfunction for men
- Weight gain
- Increased sweating
- A lump in the front of the neck, near the Adam’s apple
- Swollen glands in the neck
- Difficulty swallowing and breathing
- A persistent cough that won’t go away
Treatment Options for Neuroendocrine Cancer:Depending on the type of neuroendocrine cancer you are diagnosed with, the severity of the case and your overall health, the available treatment options will vary. Each treatment option has its own set of side effects that can affect your quality of life. For this reason, it is important to discuss all options. Below are some of the most common treatments associated with neuroendocrine cancer:
Surgery:Surgery is the removal of a tumour and its surrounding tissue. It is the most common treatment option for Merkel cell tumours and pheochromocytoma. Surgery is often followed by another form of treatment which prevents remission from occurring. The symptoms of surgery vary depending on the location of the surgery. Different locations require different strategies, making every case different. Sometimes, a tumour is inoperable, meaning surgery isn’t an option. In this case, your doctor will recommend another form of treatment.
Radiation therapy:Radiation therapy is the use of high-energy X-rays to destroy cancer cells. The most common form of radiation therapy is external beam therapy, where radiation is given via a machine. Radiation therapy is usually recommended for inoperable tumours. In some cases, it is also given post-surgery to prevent tumours from growing back. Side effects of radiation therapy include:
- Irritable skin
- Nausea and vomiting
Chemotherapy:Chemotherapy is the use of drugs to destroy cancer cells. Common ways to receive chemotherapy are intravenously or via a pill or capsule. The severity of chemotherapy’s side effects depends on how big the dose is. Chemotherapy can often lead to:
- Severe fatigue
- Vomiting and diarrhoea
- Reduced appetite