Irrfan Khan’s disease Neuroendocrine tumor – Is it fatal?

It was quite depressing to know that Irrfan Khan – the prolific actor has been diagnosed with a rare disease called Neuroendocrine Tumor. In this post we will get an insight about what the disease is and how fatal it can be!

Neuroendocrine tumor (NET) is a sort of rare cancer. It normally happens in the cells present in our endocrine system, which comprises our stomach, lungs, and bowel. This cancer is common in case of people who are older than 60 years. The second type of NET is carcinoid tumors. The symptoms are normally dependent on the location in one’s body where the cancer has originally formed. However, the commonest ones, in this case, are tummy pain, loss of appetite, changes in one’s bowel habits, weight loss, and shortness of breath. Just like other forms of cancer, there are various ways to detect this cancer such as blood and/or urine tests, different scans, and biopsy to name a few.

The stage at which the cancer is detected

One of the first things that are important as far as determining whether one would survive a NET is the stage at which the disease is. The term stage indicates how big the tumor is and where the cancer has rooted itself in one’s body. Normally, it is in the early stages that one gets the best prognosis. In case it is at a later stage the prognosis is understandably worse. Usually, in the later stages, the cancer spreads to a nearby organ or a lymph node.

Level of differentiation

The process of differentiation is used in order to tell how different the cancerous cells are from the normal ones in the patient’s body. This is a very important prognostic factor as far as NET is concerned. Normally, NET is better differentiated than the likes of neuroendocrine carcinoma that happens to be badly differentiated.


The term grade implies how quickly the cancerous cells are growing. This is normally calculated by counting the cells that are dividing. This is also known as mitotic count. These days, the test used most often for such purposes is the Ki-67 labeling index. This test normally measures the cells – rather their numbers – that have the Ki-67 antigen in their nuclei.

This marker is normally used in order to show the addition as far as the number of cancerous cells is concerned. The important factors, in this case, are cell division and growth. Normally, if the NET has a lower Ki-67 index the prognosis is better for the patient. The chances of survival here are also greater than ones where the index is on the higher side.

Hormones and CgA levels

Doctors can also use elements such as hormones and Chromogranin A (CgA) in order to diagnose NET and get an idea of how a patient may respond to different kinds of treatment used in her or his context.

If someone has a normal level of CgA in their blood as well as 5-Hydroxyindoleacetic acid (5-HIAA) in their urine samples the prognosis is normally better than when these are on the higher side. It has been seen in certain cases that even if the symptoms seem to be controlled, increase in the hormone levels means that the cancer is continuing to grow. As an example, it can be said that if someone has high levels of 5-HIAA in her or his urine it means that there is an excessive level of serotonin.

This can lead to heart issues as well – these issues are known as carcinoid heart disease. Normally, if someone has such issues the prognosis is obviously going to be bad. It has also been seen that the prognosis is less favorable in case of people suffering from Cushing syndrome. It is when someone has an excessive amount of cortisol in one’s body that one suffers from this condition.

A few words on its treatment

Normally, the treatment is done on the basis of several factors. First is the size of the tumor. Then come factors such as its size, the symptoms, the areas to which it has made its presence felt, and how the cells look under a microscope. Normally, in most cases, the tumors are removed by surgery. However, if the tumor cannot be removed, then the patient will have to depend on medicines to ease the symptoms and have the best possible life. In some cases, the NET may grow slowly and might even not change over a period of time.

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