Small bowel neuroendocrine tumours (NETs) are rare bowel tumours. They start in the neuroendocrine cells of the small bowel. They often develop slowly and don’t always have specific symptoms.
What are neuroendocrine cells?
Neuroendocrine cells are part of our neuroendocrine system. Neuroendocrine cells don’t form an actual organ. Instead, they are scattered throughout other organs like the oesophagus, stomach, pancreas, intestines, and lungs. They make hormones which control how our bodies work.
The digestive system is large and has more neuroendocrine cells than any other part of the body.
The small bowel
The small bowel makes up most of the digestive tract. It is about 6 metres long, but it is folded up so that it fits inside the abdomen.
It has 3 sections:
- duodenum (dew-oh-dean-um) – the top part of the small bowel, which connects to the stomach
- jejunum (jej-you-num) – the middle part
- ileum (ill-ee-um) – the lower part, which connects to the large bowel (colon)
Right at the end of the ileum, just before it joins to the colon, is a small pouch called the appendix.
Small bowel NETs include any that develop in the ileum and the jejunum. Doctors group some NETs that develop in the duodenum with NETs that start in the pancreas.
How common are small bowel NETs?
Small bowel NETs are rare cancers. Around 4 out of 10 small bowel tumours (around 40%) are neuroendocrine tumours. Most NETs start somewhere in the digestive system (gut). And around 40 out of every 100 of these digestive system neuroendocrine tumours (around 40%) start in the small bowel.
The average age of people diagnosed with a NET of the jejunum or ileum is 66. Small bowel NETs are more common in men than women.
Risks and causes
A risk factor is anything that increases your risk of getting a disease. Different diseases have different risk factors. Small bowel neuroendocrine tumours are rare. At the moment, no clear risk factors have been found that increase your chance of developing a small bowel NET.
Having a family history of cancer is a risk factor for all types of NET including small bowel NETs.
You might be interested to read about the possible symptoms of small bowel NETs.