Neuroendocrine tumors (NET) are ones you don’t hear much about because they are rare. Still, for the 12,000 people affected by these very serious tumors every year, it’s important to know more about the treatments that are now available to make informed choices about your health. The more you know about your condition, the more able you are to work with your doctor to consider treatment options.
Our neuroendocrine specialist knows how important it is for you. Rocky Mountain Cancer Centers (RMCC) offers a treatment option, Lutathera, that is showing some promising results for patients with neuroendocrine tumors.
What is the Neuroendocrine System?
The neuroendocrine system consists of special cells spread throughout the body. They have one job; they make and release hormones, which are chemicals that affect every system. Hormones are kind of like switches; they turn things on and off. For example, when your body needs fuel, a hormone triggers that hungry feeling you get that tells you to eat. A different hormone is responsible for letting you know you should stop because you are full.
What is a Neuroendocrine Tumor?
Lutathera is a therapy to treat neuroendocrine tumors, but what are they? Neuroendocrine tumors are complex growths that appear in cells that produce hormones. Like many forms of cancer, people can have neuroendocrine tumors and not know it. You might not have any apparent symptoms, or you may think you have another medical problem.
They appear in different parts of your body, but most will develop in the digestive tract, lungs, pancreas, rectum, or the appendix. We identify them based on their location. For example, a NET found in the GI tract is a gastrointestinal neuroendocrine tumor.
These tumors are slow-growing, so the symptoms appear slowly, as well. Often, a patient will go to the doctor, thinking they are GERD or a gastrointestinal condition like irritable bowel syndrome and not a NET. The doctor will do tests like a CT, MRI, or ultrasound and find the tumor.
What is Lutathera?
Lutathera was approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 2018 to treat neuroendocrine tumors. Also known as Lutetium Lu 177, it is a radioactive drug that targets specific cells.
Neuroendocrine tumors have one thing in common no matter where they grow — they have a special kind of receptor protein. Receptor proteins live on the surface of cells and are there to receive chemical messages. Lutathera can find these tumors by looking for that one receptor protein — somatostatin receptors.
How Does Lutathera Work?
Lutathera finds the tumor by looking for somatostatin receptors, and then it binds to them. That gives the drug access to the cells that make up the tumor. That is what physicians call targeted drug delivery.
Since Lutathera only binds to somatostatin receptors and is found in neuroendocrine tumors, the drug can easily find those sick cells and get to work.
Once Lutathera binds to the somatostatin receptors, it delivers radiation to the tumor cells. As you probably already know, radiation therapy is a standard cancer treatment, but this is different. Instead of having radiation beams go through your body to target a tumor, Lutathera finds cancer on its own, sparing healthy cells in the process.
How is Lutathera Given?
It starts with an exam with our neuroendocrine specialist and his team. Dr. Eric Liu practices in the Rocky Mountain Cancer Center located in Midtown Denver. As well as specializing in neuroendocrine tumors, Dr. Liu is board-certified in general surgery and Fellow of the American College of Surgeons (FACS) certification.
During the exam, you must tell them as much about yourself and how you feel as possible. This is when you will learn more about the drug and the benefits of taking it. You will also discuss the potential side effects.
Be sure to mention if you are pregnant, think you might be pregnant or are breastfeeding. It might not be safe for you to get this medication if you are expecting a baby or nursing. Also, bring a list of medicines you take with you.
It’s important to talk about any medications you might be taking, too, even over-the-counter products for pain or vitamins. Make sure to mention any herbal remedies you take, also, such as St. John’s Wort.
Lutathera is only available for adults with advanced NETs affecting the pancreas or gastrointestinal tract. Typically, it is only offered if initial therapies fail to stop cancer from growing.
You get the treatment with several IV infusions. Each one takes about five hours to deliver, and you get them every eight to sixteen weeks.
Are There Side Effects With Lutathera Treatments?
As with most medications, there can be side effects of Lutathera. Patients might experience:
- Hair Loss
- Muscle pain
- Water retention and swelling
- Low energy
- Diarrhea or constipation
- Decreased appetite
Some patients become anemic during their treatment, too. Your oncologist can provide medications to help control some of the side effects. You should make sure to tell us about any problems you are having, too, so we can help you with them.
How Effective is Lutathera?
The studies are very promising for this drug therapy for patients who meet specific criteria. One clinical trial found that Lutathera treatment reduced the risk of cancer spreading by as much as 79 percent compared to other treatments. The cancer care team might also combine Lutathera treatment with different kinds of cancer therapy.
Rocky Mountain Cancer Centers is here to help you win your fight against cancer, and we offer some of the most innovative treatment options around.