Endocrine Cancer overview
Endocrine cancer is a broad category, including both neuroendocrine tumors and cancer of any of the endocrine system organs, such as the thyroid, adrenal glands, pituitary glands, and more. These rare forms of cancer are very complex and can be highly varied, making understanding them more of a challenge for researchers. Since they impact the production and regulation of hormones, these conditions can have a significant impact on many aspects of daily life.
Given the wide range of possible trajectories, endocrine cancers don’t always present with signs and symptoms in the early stages. The symptoms will be highly dependent on where the tumor is and whether or not it’s producing excess hormones. That said, many will experience general signs which include a painful, growing lump under the skin, always feeling tired, or unexpected weight loss.
Endocrine cancers that cause excess hormones produce an ever wider range of symptoms. These include diarrhea and frequent urination, excessive thirst, flush or rashed skin, dizziness, and uncontrollable tremors.
While the exact cause of most endocrine cancers isn’t currently known, we do know the vast majority begin in neuroendocrine cells. These specific types of cells are similar to nerve and hormone-producing cells, and they’re found throughout the body. This means endocrine cancer can occur anywhere.
Some types of endocrine cancers are extremely slow-developing and have little risk of metastasizing rapidly. That said, other forms are quite aggressive and are known to spread quickly and destroy healthy cells everywhere it goes. This metastasizing is a significant complication of any cancer, but where endocrine cancer spreads highly depends on where it originated.
The primary risk factor for developing endocrine cancer is your genetic background. For example, the people with the highest risk are those who have inherited certain conditions such as multiple endocrine neoplasia types 1 and 2 or Von Hippel-Lindau disease. Other issues that can increase your odds of developing endocrine cancer include tuberous sclerosis and neurofibromatosis.
Endocrine cancers of all types are relatively rare. Even the most common type, thyroid cancer, only affects an estimated 64,000 people a year. However, taken together, there are still hundreds of thousands, if not more, people suffering from some type of endocrine cancer. Given the full range of different forms, the outlook is also quite varied. Some examples of endocrine tumors are incredibly treatable, while others can be very challenging to mitigate.
Endocrine cancers of all kinds are a severe diagnosis that needs to be brought under control as soon as possible. If you have any concerns that you or a loved one could be facing a new cancer diagnosis, please don’t wait to talk to your doctor. Only they can fully diagnose the problem and get you on the right path forward.