Published online Mar 27, 2021. doi: 10.4240/wjgs.v13.i3.231
Peer-review started: December 11, 2020
First decision: January 11, 2021
Revised: January 17, 2021
Accepted: March 2, 2021
Article in press: March 2, 2021
Published online: March 27, 2021
Our understanding about the epidemiological aspects, pathogenesis, molecular diagnosis, and targeted therapies of neuroendocrine neoplasms (NENs) have drastically advanced in the past decade. Gastroenteropancreatic (GEP) NENs originate from the enteroendocrine cells of the embryonic gut which share common endocrine and neural differentiation factors. Most NENs are well-differentiated, and slow growing. Specific neuroendocrine biomarkers that are used in the diagnosis of functional NENs include insulin, glucagon, vasoactive intestinal polypeptide, gastrin, somatostatin, adrenocorticotropin, growth hormone releasing hormone, parathyroid hormone-related peptide, serotonin, histamine, and 5-hydroxy indole acetic acid (5-HIAA). Biomarkers such as pancreatic polypeptide, human chorionic gonadotrophin subunits, neurotensin, ghrelin, and calcitonin are used in the diagnosis of non-functional NENs. 5-HIAA levels correlate with tumour burden, prognosis and development of carcinoid heart disease and mesenteric fibrosis, however several diseases, medications and edible products can falsely elevate the 5-HIAA levels. Organ-specific transcription factors are useful in the differential diagnosis of metastasis from an unknown primary of well-differentiated NENs. Emerging novel biomarkers include circulating tumour cells, circulating tumour DNA, circulating micro-RNAs, and neuroendocrine neoplasms test (NETest) (simultaneous measurement of 51 neuroendocrine-specific marker genes in the peripheral blood). NETest has high sensitivity (85%-98%) and specificity (93%-97%) for the detection of gastrointestinal NENs, and is useful for monitoring treatment response, recurrence, and prognosis. In terms of management, surgery, radiofrequency ablation, symptom control with medications, chemotherapy and molecular targeted therapies are all considered as options. Surgery is the mainstay of treatment, but depends on factors including age of the individual, location, stage, grade, functional status, and the heredity of the tumour (sporadic vs inherited). Medical management is helpful to alleviate the symptoms, manage inoperable lesions, suppress postoperative tumour growth, and manage recurrences. Several molecular-targeted therapies are considered second line to somatostatin analogues. This review is a clinical update on the pathophysiological aspects, diagnostic algorithm, and management of GEP NENs.
Core Tip: Gut, the largest endocrine organ of the body, secretes several hormones through its specialised neuroendocrine cells. Neuroendocrine neoplasms (NENs) originating from these cells are collectively known as gastroenteropancreatic (GEP) NENs that pose significant challenges to clinicians in the diagnostic work up, prognostication and management. Rapid advancements in the molecular diagnostic and therapeutic strategies in the recent years revolutionised the options for clinical investigations and management of patients with these uncommon neoplasms. This review updates the pathophysiological aspects, diagnostic strategies, and management algorithms of GEP NENs with the best evidence currently available in the global scientific literature to enable clinicians to optimally manage these unusual disease entities.