Endocrine tumors develop in cells that produce hormones called neuroendocrine cells. They can affect different parts of your body, including the lungs, thyroid, pancreas and adrenal gland.
Because endocrine tumors are so rare, they are often difficult to diagnose. In fact, few centers treat patients with certain hard-to-treat endocrine tumors such as a pheochromocytoma, an adrenal gland tumor.
If you have an endocrine tumor, you can find hope and care at Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center. Our specialists are dedicated to treating patients with endocrine tumors and can tailor a treatment plan for you.
Endocrine Tumors: Why Choose Vanderbilt-Ingram
Vanderbilt-Ingram is a leader in treating endocrine tumors:
- Specialized neuroendocrine center: Our physicians are focused on treating endocrine tumors. At our dedicated Neuroendocrine Center, we use sophisticated diagnostic technology, including advanced imaging scans, to get a precise diagnosis. Our surgeons are experts at performing intricate procedures to remove tumors safely and effectively.
- Collaborative, patient-centered care: Because endocrine tumors can affect different areas of the body, our team includes many specialists in neuroendocrine disease to collaborate on your treatment plan. Patients often come to our center for a second opinion on their diagnosis and treatment options.
- Tumor boards: At our regular tumor boards (cancer care meetings), our endocrine cancer experts discuss complex cases individually. Together, some of the nation’s leading cancer experts across medical disciplines collaborate on choosing a treatment plan.
- Convenient services: We provide all medical and support services in one place, from imaging scans to treatment to recovery support, reducing your stress so you can focus on getting better.
- Renowned research and clinical trials: As a National Cancer Institute-designated Comprehensive Cancer Center, Vanderbilt is continually exploring new and innovative treatments. Your doctor may suggest you participate in one of our clinical trials.
Types of Endocrine Tumors We Treat
At Vanderbilt-Ingram, we have experience in treating rare endocrine tumors, an expertise that is not always available elsewhere. Our experts treat all tumor types including:
- Pheochromocytoma/paraganglioma: These rare tumors grow in (pheochromocytoma) or outside (paraganglioma) the adrenal gland, the organ that produces hormones and affects every other part of your body. While not always cancerous, these tumors can cause high blood pressure and create life-threatening damage to your body.
- Thyroid: The thyroid gland controls your body’s temperature, weight, blood pressure and heart rate. Some thyroid cancers are more easily treatable, while others are more challenging. We work with each patient to find the right treatment solution, ranging from medication to surgery.
- Parathyroid: The parathyroid glands are responsible for calcium levels in your blood. It is more common for benign (noncancerous) tumors to affect the parathyroid. However, there are cases of malignant (cancerous) parathyroid tumors. Malignant tumors may spread (metastasize) to other organs.
- Neuroendocrine: These tumors may appear in the thyroid, intestine, pancreas or lungs, but can spread to other parts of the body. While they often grow slowly, neuroendocrine tumors can get quite large, be difficult to treat and affect multiple organs.
- Adrenal cortical carcinomas (ACC): These rare malignant (cancerous) tumors grow in the adrenal cortex, which is the outer layer of the adrenal glands. The adrenal cortex produces hormones that regulate your metabolism and blood pressure. It also produces cortisol and the male hormones called androgens, such as testosterone. Adrenal cortical carcinomas may trigger excessive production of these hormones.
Diagnosing Endocrine Tumors
Obtaining an accurate tumor diagnosis is key to your treatment. Diagnosis begins with a physical examination and talking about your symptoms. Be sure to share all your symptoms with us, no matter how minor they seem. Diagnostic testing may include:
- Lab tests: Blood and urine tests are an important part of diagnosing endocrine tumors. The information from these tests determines if you have abnormal levels of certain hormones. These tests include serotonin, 5-hydroxyindoleacetic acid (5-HIAA), chromogranin A, metanephrines and other hormone tests.
- Imaging scans: We may use computed tomography (CT) scans, magnetic resonance image (MRI) scans or ultrasound to obtain detailed images of the tumor.
- Advanced positron emission tomography (PET) scan: During this scan, we give you a small, safe amount of a radioactive tracer that will reveal where tumors are located. We are one of a few cancer centers in the U.S. to offer an advanced PET scan that provides a faster scan with less radiation, producing clearer images.
- Biopsy: We remove a tissue sample for testing, which can confirm a diagnosis and help determine how far the cancer has spread. Biopsies are crucial to forming your treatment plan. We offer a sedative and anesthetic before the biopsy so you are comfortable.
- Tumor board: Our regular tumor boards (cancer care meetings) are an essential part of your experience with us. A team of experts will assess your case, consider the results of all your tests and develop a personalized plan for you.
Treatment for Endocrine Tumors: Our Approach
Since endocrine tumors are often rare and complex, it’s important to have a team of skilled and experienced specialists. Our team includes surgeons, oncologists, endocrinologists, nuclear medicine physicians and other experts who work together on a personalized treatment plan for you.
Treatment may include:
- Surgery: Surgery is typically the best choice to treat neuroendocrine tumors. Our surgical oncologists are some of the most skilled in the Southeast region. They are experienced in performing complex resections that may affect more than one organ. For hard-to-remove tumors on the face, our surgeons work closely with plastic surgeons.
- Chemotherapy: Your team might suggest chemotherapy, which is treatment using powerful medicine, to reduce your tumor’s size before surgery. We have multiple infusion centers, so you can choose the location closest to you.
- Regional therapy: For particularly complex tumors in the liver, your team might consider regional therapy that delivers chemotherapy and or radiation directly into the blood supply to the liver. Regional therapy targets only the affected area, so doctors can use a higher dose of medication to destroy the tumor with fewer side effects.
- Clinical trials: Sometimes there are opportunities to try approaches that are still under investigation. If you are a good candidate, a clinical trial might be an option for you.
Comprehensive Post-Treatment Support
Cancer affects all aspects of your life, and it affects you even after treatments are completed. We offer robust support services – including a survivorship program and an integrative care center – to help you during treatment and in your life after treatment.