“Learning that I have been diagnosed with neuroendocrine tumor as of now has admittedly been difficult, but the love and strength of those around me and that I found within me has brought me to a place of hope.”

By Sarah Klein
March 16, 2018

After announcing earlier this month that he was facing a “rare disease,” Bollywood actor Irrfan Khan, known widely for his roles in Slumdog Millionaire and Life of Pi, revealed an official diagnosis: He has a neuroendocrine tumor.

“The unexpected makes us grow, which is what the past few days have been about,” Khan wrote on Twitter Friday. “Learning that I have been diagnosed with neuroendocrine tumor as of now has admittedly been difficult, but the love and strength of those around me and that I found within me has brought me to a place of hope.”

A neuroendocrine tumor can be one of several types of tumors, some cancerous and others benign, according to the National Cancer Institute. These growths, including pancreatic neuroendocrine tumors and carcinoid tumors, form from hormone-releasing cells, and the tumors can lead to higher levels of hormones than normal. Whenever hormone levels are out of whack, a wide range of symptoms can arise.

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Khan addressed one obvious assumption about the condition right off the bat: “As for the rumors that were floated, ‘neuro’ is not always about the brain,” his tweet continued. Neuroendocrine tumors can actually grow anywhere in the body, according to the Mayo Clinic, but they’re usually found in the appendix, pancreas, small intestines, or lungs. Khan hasn’t yet disclosed where his tumor is located or whether or not it is cancerous.

While neuroendocrine tumors are typically considered rare, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute reports that they’ve become more common. “More than 100,000 people in the United States have neuroendocrine tumors, which exceeds the incidence of both pancreatic cancer and stomach cancer in the U.S.”

Neuroendocrine tumor symptoms depend on the type of tumor and where it’s growing. “Some patients may experience symptoms caused by the presence of the tumor and its effect on nearby normal organs," according to Dana-Farber. "For instance, tumors in the lungs may cause a persistent cough or hoarseness. Tumors in the small intestine or pancreas may cause abdominal pain.” The hormones produced by neuroendocrine tumors can create symptoms of their own, including diarrhea, low blood sugar, and rashes.

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Doctors don’t entirely understand what causes neuronedrine tumors; in fact, even typical cancer risk factors like smoking don’t seem to be linked to these growths. Treatment is also highly variable. Whether a doctor recommends surgery, chemotherapy, or therapies to reduce hormone production and slow tumor growth depends on the type and location of the tumor, if it is cancerous, and the patient’s preferences, Dana-Farber continues.

Fans rallied around Khan, sending uplifting tweets in reply to his diagnosis.

Khan hasn’t yet revealed details about his own possible tumor type, location, symptoms, or treatment. For now, he seems to be staying positive. “To those who waited for my words, I hope to be back with more stories to tell,” he ended his tweet.