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Understanding Neuroendocrine (NET) Cancers

Neuroendocrine tumours (NETs) is the umbrella term for a group of unusual, often slow-growing cancers.
These tumours arise from neuroendocrine cells and although commonly found in the digestive or respiratory systems, they can actually develop anywhere in the body. The term neuroendocrine implies that these cells have received some nervous connections, (neuro- ) and the cells have the ability to secrete hormones (endocrine). 

What are NETs?


A neuroendocrine tumour (NET) begins in the specialized cells of the body’s neuroendocrine system. These cells have traits of both hormone-producing endocrine cells and nerve cells. They are found throughout the body’s organs and help control many of the body’s functions. Hormones are chemical substances that are carried through the bloodstream to have a specific effect on the activity of other organs or cells in the body. Most NETs take years to develop and grow slowly. However, some NETs can be fast-growing.

Neuro-endocrine = messenger cells of the body

Where do NETs Occur?


Neuroendocrine tumours (NETs) is can start almost anywhere in the body, but most commonly found in the digestive system, lungs, pancreas and reproductive organs. These tumours develop from secretory cells found throughout the body and are grouped by where the tumour started in the body.

The most common types of NETs are named with their primary site:

  • Gastrointestinal neuroendocrine tumours (GI NETs)

  • Lung neuroendocrine tumours (lung NETs)

  • Pancreatic neuroendocrine tumours (pNETs)

NETs can also begin in other organs and sometimes, NETs may develop in or on the adrenal glands. These rare types of NETs are called pheochromocytoma and paraganglioma. 

Common symptoms of NETs


Because they have the ability to secrete hormones and depending on where in the body they are, they can cause different symptoms and issues. Not all patients will have the same symptoms and this can make it hard to diagnose and treat.

NETs can be disguised as or mimic symptoms associated with IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome) or other chronic digestive problems.

Every NET patient is different and it is important to be cared for by an experienced physician and ideally by multiple specialists for optimal care.

​Symptoms experienced may include: 

  • Abdominal Pain

  • Diarrhoea

  • Flushing / menopause like symptoms

  • Bloating

  • Wheezing / chronic cough

  • Heart Burn

  • Weight changes

Did you know it takes on average 5 - 7 years for NETs to be correctly diagnosed in a patient?

Newly Diagnosed?

Receiving the news that you have NET cancer can be worrying and overwhelming. Often reaching out to others who are going through, or have been through similar situations can be comforting. Neuroendocrine Cancer NZ has a community of Unicorns who are supportive and often happy to connect over a phone call, email or even coffee. Check out the various ways you can engage with others in our NZ NET Cancer community, or contact one of our NET Information Managers if you have a specific enquiry. 

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