Chemotherapy for Neuroendocrine Cancer


Edited and checked December 2022

One of the unusual aspects of Neuroendocrine Cancer is that chemotherapy is not normally considered as a ‘standard’ or first-line treatment, unlike many other cancers. One exception is high grade (Grade 3) where it is very often a first and/or second-line therapy. This is particularly the case with poorly differentiated Neuroendocrine disease, by default labelled as Neuroendocrine Carcinoma (NEC). 

Many people think Chemotherapy has a short life span due to recent advances in medical science, some citing Immunotherapy as its replacement. However, it’s far too early to write off chemotherapy which is still used in many scenarios and remains a tool in the arsenal of treatments for many cancer types and is predicted to do for some time yet. See more informed reporting about this below.

Interest point – there is now a Grade 3 well-differentiated classification known as a ‘Grade 3 NET’ rather than NEC (grade 3 by default).  Depending on Ki67 score, there could be different treatment options for Grade 3 NET. Read more in my articles Staging and Grading and High Grade.  Nonetheless, many Grade 3 NETs could still see chemotherapy regularly added to their treatment plan on a neoadjuvant or adjuvant basis. 

Which Chemo for which Neuroendocrine Cancer type and grade/differentiation?

The type of chemo or the combination of different treatments will often depend on the tumour type and anatomical location involved but may include (but not limited to): Capecitabine (Xeloda), Temozolomide (Temodal), Fluorouracil (5-FU), Oxaliplatin (Eloxatin) Cisplatin, Etoposide (Etopophos, Vepesid), Carboplatin, Streptozotocin (Zanosar). Some of these may be given as a combination treatment, e.g. CAPecitabine and TEMozolomide (CAPTEM). A more detailed list is below. There is a useful article explaining the role of Ki-67 in determining optimal chemotherapy in high grade neuroendocrine tumours.

Cytotoxic chemotherapy is often inadequate for treatment of Grade 1 and most Grade 2 (well-differentiated) NETs which have a low proliferation index. Chemotherapy does not appear to like their slow cytokinetic growth. However, it tends to work better on certain parts of the anatomy than others, e.g. pancreatic NETs and Lung NETs. Of interest is a statistic from NET Research Foundation indicating that 23% of patients who were to be prescribed chemo had their treatment changed to a non-chemo option following a Ga68 PET scan. Read more here.

For second-line therapy (including for well-differentiated NETs where other conventional treatments are not working), chemo may be given. These include (but not limited to) Capecitabine, Temozolomide, Bevacizumab, Xelox, Folfox. There are other specialist chemos for Mixed Neuroendocrine Non-Neuroendocrine Neoplasms (MiNEN).

‘Horses for Courses’ – Chemo is sometimes used for well-differentiated lower grade NETs.

There’s a myth that circulates the NET patient forums along the lines of “chemotherapy does not work for NETs“. That’s not entirely true or at best totally out of context.  However, it is true to say that most lower grade NET patients will not get chemotherapy, and this can often lead to confusion in those with Stage 4 cancer when asked by others why they are not receiving “chemo”.  For those who do, it is normally in an adjuvant setting. 

Capecitabine plus Temozolomide (CAPTEM for short) is an oral chemo that is fast becoming the standard chemotherapy treatment when it is required with certain NETs, particularly pancreatic NETs.  There is a standalone article just for CAPTEM – click here or on the photo below.

Click on the picture to read

PRRT and Chemo Combo Treatment

In Australia, they trialled a combo treatment of chemo (CAPTEM) and PRRT – I blogged about this click here.  It looks like there were too many adverse events so it is doubtful if they will move to Phase 3.  

“Chinese Dumplings”

There’s also a useful surgical technique which includes the use of intra-operative chemo, known as “Chinese Dumplings” – I wrote about this click here.

Chemo Embolization

My Oncologist did mention Chemotherapy at my initial meeting which was a shock and a realisation I had something serious. However, that never transpired but I was once scheduled to have a chemoembolization (or TACE, Trans-arterial Chemo Embolization). Clearly TACE is more targeted than conventional and generally systemic chemotherapy techniques. Perhaps that was what my Oncologist meant. The chemo-embolization never transpired either (long story). Read more about liver direct therapy here.

Chemotherapy vs Targeted Biological Agents and Somatostatin Analogues

I often see people describing Somatostatin Analogues (Lanreotide/Octreotide), Afinitor (Everolimus) and Sutent (Sunitinib) as chemo but that isn’t technically correct, and I’ve yet to find a NET Specialist or a NET Specialist Organisation who classifies these drugs as chemo. See my article “Chemo or not Chemo” (click here).

Chemo types:

Platinum-based drugs (informally called platins) are chemotherapeutic agents used to treat many types of cancer including Neuroendocrine. These drugs are used to treat almost half of people receiving chemotherapy for cancer. Commonly used chemo includes CisplatinOxaliplatin, and Carboplatin.

Other Cytotoxic chemo include:

  • Fluorouracil (5-FU),
  • Streptozotocin (Zanosar)
  • Irinotecan (Campto)
  • Paclitaxel (Taxol)

and the oral (tablet) versions:

  • Capecitabine (Xeloda),
  • Temozolomide (Temodal),
  • Etoposide (Etopophos, Vepesid)

Known combos used in NENs.

Cisplatin and Etoposide appear to be the most commonly used combo for high grade.

Capecitabine (Xeloda) and Temozolomide (Temodal) (CAPTEMare used in cases of Grade 2 and Grade 3 NET but also listed as a second- or third-line treatment for NEC.

FOLFOX. Also known as Oxaliplatin de Gramont or OxMdG, which means modified Oxaliplatin de Gramont. It is made up of folinic acid (also called leucovorin, FA or calcium folinate), fluorouracil (5FU) and oxaliplatin.

FOLFIRI.  Also known as irinotecan de Gramont or irinotecan modified de Gramont. It includes folinic acid (also called leucovorin, calcium folinate or FA), fluorouracil (5FU) and irinotecan.

Oxaliplatin and capecitabine (XELOX) Oxaliplatin and capecitabine is a chemotherapy combination known as XELOX. This combination might also be called CAPOX, CAPE-OX or OxCap.

FCarboSt. A combo of Fluorouracil, Streptozocin and Carboplatin.  Use may be limited to Royal Free Hospital London.  I would love to hear from others.

XELIRI or CAPIRI.  Capecitabine and Irinotecan. 

Future of Chemo?

A lot is written about how much longer chemo will be around. It gets a bad press – I suspect due to the side effects. There are suggestions that it will eventually be replaced by Immunotherapy and other treatments downstream. However, immunotherapy is still in its infancy and there remains a lack of long-term data on success rates and side effects. I suspect chemo will be around for a while longer, particularly for cancers where it has a track record of curing according to ASCO. Recently (June 2018), cancer experts said that chemo will be around for a long time yet – read more here.



I am not a doctor or any form of medical professional, practitioner or counsellor. None of the information on my website, or linked to my website(s), or conveyed by me on any social media or presentation, should be interpreted as medical advice given or advised by me.  Neither should any post or comment made by a follower or member of my private group be assumed to be medical advice, even if that person is a healthcare professional as they are not members of the private group or followers of my sites in any official capacity.  Please also note that mention of a clinical service, trial/study or therapy does not constitute an endorsement of that service, trial/study or therapy by Ronny Allan, the information is provided for education and awareness purposes and/or related to Ronny Allan’s own patient experience. This element of the disclaimer includes any complementary medicine, non-prescription over the counter drugs and supplements such as vitamins and minerals.

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9 thoughts on “Chemotherapy for Neuroendocrine Cancer

  • Fede

    Hello, this blog is fantastic!

    My father (almost 72 y.o.) has just been diagnosed with a Grade 3 pancreatic cancer.
    Today he finished the 1st quarter of the chemo process (4 sessions established with a 21 day rest between them)

    I have the feeling that his prognosis would be defined by the outcome of the chemo process. I was surprised to read that “23% of patients who were to be prescribed chemo had their treatment changed to a non-chemo option following a Ga68 PET scan.”

    Would that mean that these patients were actually non grade 3?

    Thanks for your info!

      • Fede

        Wow, isn´t a 23% a big number of misdiagnosed cases if we consider the implications (treatments, prognosis…) of having a Grade 1 or 2 tumor in comparison to a Grade 3 one?

        PS: Will check if differentiation and Ki67 are indicated in the biopsy results.

        Thanks for your response, Ronny. A big abrazo and fuerza from Spain!

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