Carcinoid tumour research | Cancer Research UK
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Carcinoid tumour research

All treatments must be fully researched before they can be adopted as standard treatment for everyone. This is so that we can be sure they work better than the treatments we already use. And so we know that they are safe.

First of all, treatments are developed and tested in laboratories. Only after we know that they are likely to be safe to test are they tested in people, in clinical trials. Cancer Research UK supports a lot of UK laboratory research into cancer and also supports many UK and international clinical trials.

Research into carcinoid is looking at genetics, tests, chemotherapy, biological therapies and drugs to help relieve symptoms.


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Why we need research

All treatments must be fully researched before they can be adopted as standard treatment for everyone. This is so that

  • We can be sure they work
  • We can be sure they work better than the treatments available at the moment
  • We know they are safe

First of all, treatments are developed and tested in laboratories. For ethical and safety reasons, experimental treatments must be tested in the laboratory before they can be tried in patients. If a treatment described here is said to be at the laboratory stage of research, it is not ready for patients and is not available either as NHS treatment or in private health care. Cancer Research UK supports a lot of UK laboratory research into cancer.

Tests in patients are called clinical trials. Cancer Research UK supports many UK and international clinical trials.

Find out more about clinical trials.

Carcinoid tumours are now often called neuroendocrine tumours (NETs). You can search for UK trials on our clinical trials database. If you are interested in a particular trial, print off that page and take it to your own specialist. If the trial is suitable for you, your doctor will need to make the referral to the research team.

There tend to be fewer trials for cancers like carcinoid. This is because it is a relatively rare illness so there are fewer people to take part in the trials.

The new treatments we cover here are still being researched. Until studies are completed and we know that they definitely work, these potential new treatments can’t be used as standard therapy for carcinoid.

Here is a video on what it's like to take part in a clinical trial:

View a transcript of the video (Opens in a new window) 


Research into the causes of carcinoid (neuroendocrine tumours)

Researchers want to learn more about how neuroendocrine tumours develop. So they are looking at genes in people who have this type of tumour. This type of research could eventually help with preventing tumours from developing or finding them earlier in people at increased risk.

Also, by studying gene changes in tumour cells researchers hope to find better ways of diagnosing and treating these types of tumours.

Find trials looking at the risks and causes of neuroendocrine tumours.


Research into tests for neuroendocrine tumours

Researchers have made great progress in diagnosing neuroendocrine tumours. But they continue to look for better tests and ways of monitoring the tumours, such as with different scanning techniques.

Researchers are also looking at ways of picking up tumour cells that are travelling in the bloodstream (circulating tumour cells). This could be a useful way of diagnosing neuroendocrine tumours. Doctors are also looking to see if measuring these cells in the blood can predict how well treatment will work.

Read about trials looking at diagnosing NETs.


Research into treatment


We know that surgery can cure early stage neuroendocrine tumours (carcinoid). Treatment is more difficult for tumours that have spread to another part of the body. A combination of chemotherapy drugs can help to control the tumour and any symptoms it causes. But some tumours are more sensitive to chemotherapy than others. Doctors continue to look into why this is. And to find new drugs or better combinations of drugs.

Read about chemotherapy for carcinoid.

Somatostatin analogues

Somatostatin analogues (octreotide or lanreotide), are one of the main treatments for carcinoid. A new type of drug is called pasireotide. Researchers have found that pasireotide is helpful in controlling symptoms caused by carcinoid. It may have a role in treating tumours that are no longer responding to other somatostatin analogues. Trials are looking into this.

Read about somatostatin analogues for carcinoid.

Biological therapies

Biological therapies are drugs that change the way cells work. They can boost the body's immune system to fight off or kill cancer cells, or they can block signals that tell cells to grow.

Read more about biological therapies.

Researchers are looking into different types of biological therapies to see if they are useful in treating neuroendocrine tumours.

Growth factor blocker drugs block proteins that make cells grow and multiply eg. sunitinib. Doctors already use this drug to help control the growth of neuroendocrine tumours in the pancreas that cannot be removed with surgery or have spread to another part of the body.

Everolimus is another drug that stops a particular protein called mTOR from working properly. Doctors may use it to treat advanced pancreatic neuroendocrine tumours. This drug is not available on the NHS in England at the moment. But the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) is looking into it and are expected to publish their decision next year. The drug is funded in Scotland and Wales.

Recent trials have shown that everolimus is also able to control the growth of neuroendocrine tumours (carcinoid) in the lung or digestive (gastro intestinal) system. And has recently been approved for use in Europe.

Monoclonal antibodies (MABs) recognise abnormal protein on cancer cells. They can

  • change how the cancer cell works
  • take chemotherapy or radiotherapy into the cell to kill it
  • make it easier for the immune system to recognise and kill cancer cells

Bevacizumab is a MAB that doctors have been looking at for advanced neuroendocrine tumours. They have also been looking at giving it with chemotherapy drugs such as temozolomide or capecitabine.

New drugs to control symptoms

Researchers are looking for new drugs than can help control the symptoms of carcinoid syndrome if somatostatin analogues are not working. One of these drugs is telotristat etiprate, which has shown promising results so far in trials.

Find trials looking at the treatment of neuroendocrine tumours.


Living with neuroendocrine tumours

Neuroendocrine tumours (carcinoid) usually grow slowly. Its symptoms, and treatments for the disease, can affect your quality of life. As carcinoid can be a chronic condition, doctors don't want to make people feel worse with treatment rather than better. As part of trials looking at the treatment of these tumours, doctors collect information about people's quality of life during and after treatment. One way of doing this is with questionnaires.

Some neuroendocrine tumours may release hormones that cause particular symptoms, for example flushing of the face, and diarrhoea (called carcinoid syndrome). The same hormones that produce these symptoms may also cause damage to the valves in the heart. This is called carcinoid heart disease. Carcinoid heart disease does not always need treatment, but if it does, surgeons can replace these valves. Researchers want to find ways of identifying who is most likely to develop carcinoid heart disease and the best way of monitoring them.

Find other trials looking at neuroendocrine tumours. Remember to also click on the tabs for 'closed' trials and 'results' to see all the trials listed.

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Updated: 4 July 2016