What Leads To Neuroendocrine Tumors & Can They Be Cured?

Neuroendocrine tumors (NETs) are the types of tumors that do not have a specific histological pattern. The word neuroendocrine can be divided into two words “neuro” and “endocrine”, meaning that these tumors have the properties of both the neural cells as well as the endocrinal cells.

Most commonly the neuroendocrine tumors are seen in the lungs and the gastrointestinal tract. Other sites where these tumors can be seen are the central nervous system, thyroid, breast tissue, skin and also in the urogenital system.

These tumors can be divided into two parts, low-grade tumors and high grade advanced tumors that are aggressive in nature. (1)

What Leads To Neuroendocrine Tumors?

What Leads To Neuroendocrine Tumors?

The exact cause behind the neuroendocrine tumors is not yet discovered. Although there are certain risk factors that may lead to neuroendocrine tumors. These are as follows:

Family History: If there is a positive family history of certain diseases in your family then you can have higher chances of getting afflicted with neuroendocrine tumor compared to other general population and these diseases are: multiple endocrine neoplasia type 1 (MEN1), multiple endocrine neoplasia type 2 (MEN2), neurofibromatosis type 1 (NF1), Von Hippel-Lindau syndrome (VHL) and tuberous sclerosis complex (TSC).

Age Factor: There are certain types of neuroendocrine tumors that are more common in certain age groups.

Merkel cell cancer is more common after the age of 70 years. Pheochromocytoma is most seen in patients who fall in the age group of 40 to 60 years. Carcinoid tumors are most often diagnosed in people who belong to the age group of 50 to 60 years.

Gender Factor: Some of the neuroendocrine tumors are more commonly seen in specific genders. Carcinoid tumors are seen to be occurring more in women as compared to men. On the other hand, Merkel cell cancer and pheochromocytoma are seen to be reported more in men as compared to women.

Exposure To Sunlight: A type of neuroendocrine tumor named Merkel cell carcinoma is more common in people who have high exposure to sunlight over a long period of time. There are UV rays in the rays of the sun that damages the DNA present in the skin. This can lead to excess growth of cells leading to cancer.

Race: Carcinoid tumors of the gastrointestinal system are have a slightly higher rate of occurrence in African-Americans as compared to white people.

Smoking: A person who smokes has higher chances of getting carcinoid tumor than a non-smoker. (2) No, neuroendocrine tumors are not curable. Once you have it you will be suffering from it forever. Although, there are certain factors that determine the prognosis of the disease. These factors are the stage of the tumor, the grade of the tumor, the level of differentiation of the tumor, etc. Using such factors, the doctor will determine the prognosis of the disease. (3)

Can Neuroendocrine Tumors Be Cured?

There is no cure available for neuroendocrine tumors available yet. The prognosis of the patient can be decided on the basis of stage and grade of cancer and certain other factors like age, the general condition of the patient. All these factors are looked at collectively to determine the prognosis of the tumor.

These are a relatively common type of neuroendocrine tumors as compared to other neuroendocrine tumors. This type of tumor is seen in the organs of the gastrointestinal tract as the name suggests. The organs involved are stomach, esophagus, colon, appendix, small intestine and rectum.

Amongst these organs, the neuroendocrine tumors are more commonly seen to begin from the small intestine. These tumors in the small intestine release serotonin. When there is an overproduction of serotonin, it leads to a condition called carcinoid syndrome.

Earlier, the gastrointestinal neuroendocrine tumors were also called the carcinoid tumors. It is not necessary that all the GI (gastrointestinal) NETs (neuroendocrine tumors) will lead to carcinoid syndrome and this was the reason behind not using the term carcinoid tumor any longer. GI NETs can be divided on the basis of differentiation of the tumor cells when compared to the normal cells (degree of differentiation) and on the basis of the rate of growth of cells (grade).

When the tumor cells vary just a little bit from the normal cells, it is called as well-differentiated GI NET. These tumors can be aggressive or indolent and so grading is helpful in these tumors.

When the GI NETs are really aggressive, they are called as poorly differentiated GI NETs. In these types of tumors, the tumor cells are found to be very abnormal and almost totally different than normal cells. These types of cells are bound to divide at a rapid speed. (4)


To date, the cause for neuroendocrine tumors has not been discovered. There are certain risk factors that can increase the chances of a person getting afflicted with neuroendocrine tumors. These factors are age, race, gender, etc.


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