Neuroendocrine Tumors: Latest Research

Approved by the Cancer.Net Editorial Board, 05/2022

ON THIS PAGE: You will read about the scientific research being done to learn more about neuroendocrine tumors (NETs) and how to treat them. Use the menu to see other pages.

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

  • Immunotherapy. As described in Types of Treatment, immunotherapy uses the body's natural defenses to fight cancer by improving your immune system’s ability to attack cancer cells. Researchers are testing new cancer vaccines on NETs. Another 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 tumor cells, so stopping PD-1 from working allows the immune system to better eliminate the disease.

    The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved a PD-L1 inhibitor, atezolizumab (Tecentriq), in combination with carboplatin and etoposide chemotherapy (both available as generic drugs) for the treatment of metastatic small cell lung cancer. NETs of the lung are a very different disease, but the effectiveness of atezolizumab shows the need to study immunotherapy specifically in those with a lung NET.

    Also, chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) T-cell therapy combined with antibody-drug conjugates, a type of targeted therapy, is being explored. In CAR T-cell therapy, some T cells are removed from a patient’s blood. Then, the cells are changed so they have specific proteins called receptors. The receptors allow the changed T cells to recognize the cancer cells. The changed T cells are then returned to the patient’s body. Once there, they seek out and destroy cancer cells. Learn more about the basics of CAR T-cell therapy.

  • Targeted therapy and combined treatments. As noted in Types of Treatment, research continues on targeted therapy. 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-destroying substances to them.

  • Chemotherapy. Because NETs have unique properties that healthy cells do not, researchers are trying to develop “smart” chemotherapy that only attacks tumor cells and not all cells.

  • Genetics. As described in Risk Factors, family history of MEN1 may play a role in an individual’s risk for developing a NET. Researchers are investigating MEN1 to learn more about this and other hereditary risk factors, as well as the role mutations, or changes, in genes plays in NETs.

  • Peptide receptor radionuclide therapy (PRRT). Research is underway on how to improve PRRT (See Types of Treatment) for NETs. Studies are looking at ways to improve the ability of tumor cells to attach to radiopeptides, how to use PRRT to eliminate very small traces of a NET, and ways to reduce other organs being exposed to radiation.

  • Palliative care/supportive care. Clinical trials are underway to find better ways of reducing symptoms and side effects of current treatments for a NET to improve comfort and quality of life for patients.

Looking for More About the Latest Research?

If you would like more information about the latest areas of research in NETs, explore these related items that take you outside of this guide:

The next section in this guide is Coping with Treatment. It offers some guidance on how to cope with the physical, emotional, social, and financial changes that a NET and its treatment can bring. Use the menu to choose a different section to read in this guide.