What are neuroendocrine cells?
Neuroendocrine cells receive signals from the nervous system. In response, they produce hormones, which help the body regulate everything from breathing to digestion to heart rate.
A NET forms when one of these cells mutates and starts multiplying rapidly, developing into a tumor. Overall, NETs are rare, with only about 12,000 diagnoses a year.
In the past, doctors would classify NETs as either benign (non-cancerous) or malignant (cancerous). Today, all NETs are considered cancerous because doctors believe they all can spread, or metastasize. This spread can be slow or quick, depending on the particular tumor.
There are different ways NETs can be categorized.
- Functional or non-functional: Since neuroendocrine cells produce hormones, so can neuroendocrine tumors. If a NET makes hormones, it is called a functional NET. If the NET does not make hormones, it is non-functional. Because of this release of hormones, functional NETs can have different symptoms and treatments than non-functional NETs.
- Location: NETs can be classified based on where they develop. While NETs can grow anywhere, the most common locations include the gastrointestinal tract, the lungs and the pancreas. A patient’s treatment plan and prognosis can change depending on where the NET is located.
While some NETs can be aggressive, overall, they are considered very treatable. Most have a five-year survival rate of more than 95% if they are diagnosed before the cancer has spread.
Many slow-growing NETs were once called carcinoid (meaning cancer-like) tumors. Today, that term applies only to a very narrow subset of cancers. Almost all growths that would have once been called carcinoid tumors are now considered and called NETs.
What are the risk factors for NETs?
A risk factor is anything that increases a person’s chance of developing cancer.
Risk factors for NETs include:
Why Choose MD Anderson for your NET care?
Neuroendocrine tumors (NETs) are rare. With just a few thousand cases diagnosed in the United States each year, it is important to find a team with experience treating this disease.
At MD Anderson, you will be cared for by a team of doctors and other care providers with special expertise in treating NETs. This team includes medical oncologists, surgeons, radiation oncologists, nuclear medicine physicians, pathologists, nutritionists and more. All are experts in their fields and in NET treatment. They work together closely to customize the best treatment for you.
As a top-ranked cancer center, MD Anderson's researchers are pioneering remarkable advances to give you the best chance for fighting NETs. These include:
- Targeted therapy drugs that interrupt the growth and spread of the disease
- Advanced surgical techniques that can improve outcomes while shortening hospital stays and recovery times.
- Radiation therapy that focuses on cancer cells while minimizing damage to healthy nearby tissue.
Many clinical trials at MD Anderson are not available at other cancer centers. In fact, we offer clinical trials for patients with many different types of NETS, including NETs that are functional and non-functional, and located in different parts of the body.
And, at MD Anderson you're surrounded by the strength of one of the nation's foremost comprehensive cancer centers. We have all the support and wellness services needed to treat the whole person – not just the disease.