What is neuroendocrine cancer?

What are neuroendocrine cells?

Neuroendocrine cells are spread throughout the human body, but are mainly found in the small intestine, pancreas, and lung bronchioles. Neuroendocrine cells act like nerve cells in that they receive messages from the nervous system; they can also release small molecules that circulate throughout the body and work like hormones. High levels of these hormone-like substances can cause symptoms such as flushing or diarrhea.

Illustration of the anatomical distribution of neuroendocrine tumors

How does neuroendocrine cancer begin?

Neuroendocrine cancer begins in any of the hormone-producing cells within the neuroendocrine system. There are many different types of neuroendocrine cancer, depending on where the cancer starts growing. These cancers also grow at different rates; some spread to other parts of the body (metastasize) quickly, while others are more slow-growing.

A carcinoid tumor is a type of neuroendocrine tumor that most commonly starts in the lungs or gastrointestinal system (lung bronchioles, stomach, or intestines); carcinoid tumors are most often low grade and slow growing.

Who does neuroendocrine cancer affect?

Neuroendocrine cancers affect men and women about equally, and most are found in people at around the age of 62.

Last reviewed: 
January 2018

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