Neuroendocrine Tumor: Latest Research

Approved by the Cancer.Net Editorial Board, 11/2016

ON THIS PAGE: You will read about the scientific research being done now to learn more about this type of tumor and how to treat it. To see other pages, use the menu.

Doctors are working to learn more about neuroendocrine tumors, how to best treat them, and how to provide the best care to people diagnosed with this disease. The following areas of research may include new options for patients through clinical trials. Always talk with your doctor about the diagnostic and treatment options best for you.

  • New chemotherapy and drug combinations. A study has shown that the drug octreotide (Sandostatin) can slow the growth of neuroendocrine tumors that started in the lower part of the small intestine, called the midgut, and have spread. Drugs used in chemotherapy, such as fluorouracil, leucovorin (Wellcovorin), and oxaliplatin (Eloxatin), work in different ways to stop the growth of tumor cells, either by destroying the cells or by stopping them from dividing.

  • Peptide receptor radiotherapy (PRRT). This treatment method is not approved for use in the United States but is performed at select centers in the European Union and in U.S. clinical trials. In PRRT, a small amount of radioactive material is attached to a protein called octreotide. The receptors in tumor cells attract the octreotide and expose the cells to the attached radioactive material, destroying them.

  • Targeted therapy and combined treatments. Monoclonal antibodies are a type of targeted therapy that blocks tumor growth in different ways. Some block the ability of tumor cells to grow and spread. Others find tumor cells and help destroy them or carry tumor-killing substances to them. Both everolimus and sunitinib have been shown to delay the growth of islet cell tumors in clinical trials.

    Bevacizumab (Avastin) is another type of monoclonal antibody. It is focused on stopping angiogenesis, which is the process of making new blood vessels. Because a tumor needs the nutrients delivered by blood vessels to grow and spread, the goal of anti-angiogenesis therapies is to “starve” the tumor. When combined with chemotherapy, it may destroy more tumor cells than chemotherapy alone. Bevacizumab may also stop the growth of neuroendocrine tumors by blocking blood flow to the tumor.

    Another anti-angiogenic drug being studied for neuroendocrine tumors is sorafenib (Nexavar), which may stop the growth of tumor cells by blocking some of the enzymes needed for cell growth and by blocking blood flow to the tumor.

  • Merkel cell polyomavirus (MCV). As outlined in the Risk Factors section, MCV is present in most but not all Merkel cell cancer tumors. Researchers continue to investigate the link between this common virus and this uncommon type of tumor, including whether the presence or absence of the virus in a tumor could result in different treatment approaches.

  • Immunotherapy. Because of the link between MCV and Merkel cell cancer (see Risk Factors), researchers are looking for ways to boost the body's natural defenses to fight the cancer. Immunotherapy uses materials made either by the body or in a laboratory to improve, target, or restore immune system function.

    A specific area of immunotherapy research is looking at drugs that block a protein called PD-1. PD-1 is found on the surface of T-cells, which are a type of white blood cell that helps the body’s immune system fight disease. PD-1 stops the immune system from destroying cancer cells, so stopping PD-1 from working allows the immune system to better eliminate the disease. Researchers are also testing drugs that target CTLA-4, such as ipilimumab (Yervoy), as well as tyrosine kinase inhibitors and other biologically targeted strategies, to treat Merkel cell cancer.

  • Palliative care. Clinical trials are underway to find better ways of reducing symptoms and side effects of current neuroendocrine tumor treatments to improve patients’ comfort and quality of life.

Looking for More About the Latest Research?

If you would like additional information about the latest areas of research regarding neuroendocrine tumors, explore these related items that will take you outside of this guide:

The next section in this guide is Coping with Treatment. It offers some guidance in how to cope with the physical, emotional, and social changes that a tumor and its treatment can bring. Or, use the menu to choose another section to continue reading this guide.