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Lung neuroendocrine (carcinoid) tumors: Treatment and prognosis

Charles F Thomas, Jr, MD
James R Jett, MD
Jonathan R Strosberg, MD
Section Editor
Joseph S Friedberg, MD
Deputy Editor
Diane MF Savarese, MD


Lung neuroendocrine (bronchial carcinoid) tumors (NETs) are a rare group of pulmonary neoplasms that are often characterized by indolent clinical behavior. Like other carcinoid tumors, lung NETs are thought to derive from peptide- and amine-producing neuroendocrine cells. NETs can arise at a number of sites throughout the body, including the thymus, lung, gastrointestinal (GI) tract, and ovary. The GI tract is the most frequently involved site for NETs, while the lung is the second most common. (See "Clinical characteristics of carcinoid tumors".)

Lung NETs are characterized by strikingly heterogeneous pathological features and clinical behavior. At one end of the spectrum are the so-called typical carcinoids, which are well-differentiated, low-grade, slowly growing neoplasms that seldom metastasize to extrathoracic structures. At the other end of the spectrum are the poorly differentiated and high-grade neuroendocrine carcinomas, as typified by small cell lung cancer (SCLC), which behaves aggressively, with rapid tumor growth and early distant dissemination. The biologic behavior of atypical carcinoid tumors, which are of intermediate grade and differentiation, is intermediate between typical carcinoid tumors and SCLC. The terms "typical" and "atypical" carcinoid of the lung correspond roughly to the terms "grade 1" and "grade 2," which are used more commonly in extrathoracic NETs. (See "Lung neuroendocrine (carcinoid) tumors: Epidemiology, risk factors, classification, histology, diagnosis, and staging", section on 'Classification, histology, and histochemistry' and "Pathobiology and staging of small cell carcinoma of the lung" and "Pathology, classification, and grading of neuroendocrine tumors arising in the digestive system", section on 'Classification and terminology'.)

Multifocal disease is relatively common in patients with low-grade lung NETs. An extreme example is diffuse idiopathic pulmonary neuroendocrine cell hyperplasia (DIPNECH), a benign condition characterized by diffuse hyperplasia of pulmonary neuroendocrine cells and formation of multiple carcinoid tumorlets. (See "Pathology of lung malignancies", section on 'DIPNECH'.)

The treatment and prognosis of both typical and atypical lung NETs (carcinoid tumors) will be discussed here. The epidemiology, classification, clinical features, diagnosis, and staging of these tumors is discussed elsewhere, as is treatment of well-differentiated NETs arising in other sites and poorly differentiated neuroendocrine cancers arising in the lung. (See "Lung neuroendocrine (carcinoid) tumors: Epidemiology, risk factors, classification, histology, diagnosis, and staging" and "Staging, treatment, and posttreatment surveillance of nonmetastatic, well-differentiated gastrointestinal tract neuroendocrine (carcinoid) tumors" and "Extensive stage small cell lung cancer: Initial management" and "Role of surgery in multimodality therapy for small cell lung cancer".)


For patients with localized lung neuroendocrine tumors (NETs), surgical resection is the preferred treatment approach, assuming adequate pulmonary reserve. For patients whose condition does not permit complete resection and for exceptional low-grade cases where the lesion is entirely endobronchial, transbronchoscopic resection may be an alternative. (See 'Endobronchial management' below.)

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Literature review current through: Nov 2017. | This topic last updated: Dec 05, 2017.
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