What are bronchial neuroendocrine tumors?

Bronchial neuroendocrine tumors are a rare type of cancer that grows in the lungs. They are also called lung carcinoid tumors. These tumors develop from neuroendocrine cells, a type of cell that makes hormones to support certain bodily functions. Most neuroendocrine tumors are found in the gastrointestinal (GI) tract, but about 25% grow in the lungs.

There are two main types of bronchial neuroendocrine tumors:

  • Typical carcinoid tumors grow slowly and usually do not spread outside of the lungs. They are not usually linked with smoking.  
  • Atypical carcinoid tumors grow more quickly are more likely to spread. They are not as common as typical carcinoids and are more likely to be linked with smoking.

Sometimes, these tumors produce hormones that are released into the body. In rare cases, these hormones can cause symptoms. If the tumor produces too many hormones, it can cause carcinoid syndrome, a condition that causes specific symptoms and other physical problems.

What are the symptoms of bronchial neuroendocrine tumors?

Because bronchial neuroendocrine tumors grow slowly, they may not cause symptoms right away. For this reason, they are sometimes found on tests done for other conditions. When symptoms do occur, they may include:

  • Cough, sometimes a bloody cough
  • Shortness of breath
  • Wheezing
  • Chest pain

How are bronchial neuroendocrine tumors treated?

Treatment for bronchial neuroendocrine tumors depends on where in the lungs the tumor is located and if it has spread to other parts of the body. Options include:

  • Surgery to remove all or part of the lung. This is the main treatment for bronchial neuroendocrine tumors
  • Chemotherapy may be used if the cancer has spread to other parts of the body or if the tumor is causing severe symptoms
  • Radiation therapy may be used after surgery or if surgery is not an option
  • Hormone therapy to help slow the growth of neuroendocrine cells

What are the risk factors for bronchial neuroendocrine tumors?

Doctors are still learning about what causes bronchial neuroendocrine tumors. Some of the known risk factors include:

  • Being female
  • Being White
  • Having an inherited condition called multiple endocrine neoplasia type 1 (MEN1)
  • Smoking (for atypical tumors only)