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What you need to know about pancreatic neuroendocrine cancer

A photograph showing the hands of a patient and doctor as they talk.
Blog Health Information

/ by UK HealthCare

This week, the world lost one of the greatest singers of all time, Aretha Franklin. Ms. Franklin passed away after a battle with pancreatic neuroendocrine cancer.

In the wake of her passing, you might have some questions about the the type of cancer she had and what treatment options are available.

Pancreatic neuroendocrine cancer is a type of cancer that starts in the hormone-making endocrine cells of the pancreas and can result in pancreatic neuroendocrine tumors. This cancer differs from pancreatic cancer, which is when malignant cells are found in the tissues of the pancreas.

“Aretha Franklin’s death has brought awareness to this rare tumor and hopefully will bring additional attention to earlier diagnosis and treatment options for those with more advanced disease,” said Chief of Medical Oncology Dr. Lowell Anthony. “The last five years have seen rapid advancement in therapeutic options for these patients, including safer and more efficacious targeted therapies, such as peptide receptor radio therapy.”

The UK Markey Cancer Center has a multidisciplinary neuroendocrine center that focuses on using various methods and therapies to treat neuroendocrine tumors based on the unique cases of each patient.

“We are among the very few programs in the country with two medical oncologists focusing exclusively on clinical management of neuroendocrine tumor patients,” said Markey’s Dr. Aman Chauhan.

Here is what you should know about pancreatic neuroendocrine tumors and how they can be treated:

What are pancreatic neuroendocrine tumors?

Pancreatic neuroendocrine tumors (PNETs) are rare tumors – some of which can lead to cancer, while others are benign.

PNETs can spread to the liver, bones and lymph nodes.

What are the types of these tumors?

There are two types of pancreatic neuroendocrine tumors.

Functional tumors can cause varying symptoms due to hormones, such as insulin and glucagon, being produced in excess.

Non-functional tumors are usually detected at later stages because they’re not producing extra hormones. When they do appear, symptoms include jaundice, abdominal pain and diarrhea.

How do doctors test for PNETs?

Doctors can use CT scans or PET scans to check for PNETs.

A biopsy is also necessary to confirm the diagnosis and to confirm the severity of the tumors.

How are PNETs treated?

A multidisciplinary approach is recommended for treating PNETs.

If possible, surgery is the preferred option during the early stage of the disease.

Patients who have a more advanced stage of the disease can have it managed through monthly injections, targeted therapy, chemotherapy and peptide receptor radio therapy (PRRT).

“MCC has been involved in various investigator initiated and industry-sponsored clinical trials, helping advance therapeutic options for these rare cancer patients,” said Chauhan. “MCC has recently added PRRT, which has revolutionized treatment of well-differentiated neuroendocrine tumor patients.”

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