Across the globe, people are mourning the loss of Aretha Franklin, who brought people joy through her music and touched minds and hearts through her voice. Her iconic career in the music industry was a beacon of light and spans generations in music and U.S. history.

We are saddened to hear that Ms. Franklin passed from a pancreatic neuroendocrine tumor (pNET) and can only imagine the hardships and pain she and her loved ones experienced after diagnosis and treatment for this rare and often misunderstood disease. While this is a tremendous loss, we hope that it will bring attention, more research, and new treatments to this type of cancer.

To raise awareness, we’ve provided a brief overview of pancreatic neuroendocrine tumors and what you should know about this disease.

What is a pancreatic neuroendocrine tumor?

Neuroendocrine tumors that arise in the pancreas are called “pancreatic neuroendocrine tumors” or pNET for short. pNETs are usually slow-growing by nature and develop over the course of many years, which can make them difficult to diagnose. This type of cancer is usually diagnosed by a CT scan or MRI that can show tumors in places like the pancreas or liver.

How many people have neuroendocrine pancreatic cancer?

According to the NET Research Foundation, over 170,000 people in the U.S. are living with neuroendocrine cancers. pNET is found in about 6% of neuroendocrine tumor cases and is classified as a rare cancer. It is estimated that over 12,000 people are diagnosed with neuroendocrine cancers each year, and for unknown reasons, the number of patients diagnosed is increasing by more than 5% each year.

What are the symptoms?

Patients with pancreatic neuroendocrine tumors may experience symptoms, such as abdominal pain, nausea, and vomiting. Flushing and diarrhea are also two main symptoms. Diarrhea can be mild to severe which may lead to weight loss. Flushing may be light pink to a deep red and occurs mostly in the face. There may also be asymptomatic side effects (producing or showing no symptoms).

How is it treated?

There are a variety of different types of treatments and therapy must be tailored to each patient’s tumor burden and symptoms. Treatments can either focus on 1) stopping tumor growth or 2) symptom relief. Surgery to remove the tumors can often increase survival. If surgery isn’t possible, other treatment options are available to individuals such as: somatostatin analogues, chemotherapy, radiation, and embolization. Sometimes two or more treatment options may be used together in combination.

While this is an aggressive disease, it can be cured and some people can live for years managing the disease. We support third party organizations, like the NET Research Foundation, that fund research to discover more effective treatments as well as patients, caregivers, and healthcare professionals that continue to raise awareness and fight this disease.