Meet Dr. Eric Liu | by
Neuroendocrine Tumor Surgeon
Sometimes symptoms like reoccurring stomach aches or breathing problems are not caused by usual ailments. In these situations, patients and their doctors are shooting in the dark and they unsuccessfully try treatment after treatment. Meanwhile, patients suffer for years.
Dr. Eric Liu, an internationally-recognized neuroendocrine tumor surgeon with the Rocky Mountain Cancer Centers says these ongoing problems can be symptoms of abnormal growths known as neuroendocrine tumors, also called NETs.
“Neuroendocrine tumors are a rare cancer that is frequently misunderstood and misdiagnosed,” he says.
Liu came to Colorado to be part of the leadership team at the new Neuroendocrine Tumor Institute offered through the Rocky Mountain Cancer Centers (RMCC) and Presbyterian/St. Luke’s Medical Center (PSL).
In addition to his work at RMCC, Liu serves as the Chief Medical Advisor for The Healing NET Foundation, a nonprofit providing neuroendocrine cancer education. Previously, he established a neuroendocrine center at Vanderbilt University and also worked with neuroendocrine research pioneer Dr. Kjell Oberg in Sweden.
What is the Neuroendocrine Tumor Institute?
Dr. Liu: People with NETs can seek state-of-the-art treatment at the Institute. Our multi-disciplinary team is led by Dr. Allen Cohn, a medical oncologist from RMCC specializing in carcinoids (a type of neuroendocrine tumor), Dr. Charles Nutting, an interventional radiology expert from Radiology Imaging Associates, and myself. We draw on our expertise to provide excellent care. Only a handful of centers across the U.S. deal with NETs to the extent we do.
What is a neuroendocrine tumor (NET)?
Dr. Liu: With the death of Steve Jobs, more people have heard of NETs. Yet, the public and, unfortunately many medical professionals, have scant knowledge about this uncommon cancer that affects the lungs, small intestine, rectum, pancreas, and other areas. NETs are abnormal growths that develop from neuroendocrine cells – these cells release hormones to help regulate most bodily functions. NETs can be benign (non-cancerous) or malignant (cancerous). NETs tend to be aggressive because they spread, but they are mostly slow-growing.
What are symptoms of a NET?
Dr. Liu: Symptoms of NETs can sometimes include diarrhea, abdominal pain, joint pain, flushing (blushing), wheezing and asthma. Occasionally, people have no symptoms.
Dr. Liu: At the Institute, we use the latest developments in technology to diagnose and provide personalized treatment plans. For example, we use Netspot, a gallium kit that uses a high-res nuclear scan to take a picture of tumors to help locate and remove them. We also offer Lutathera treatments, a new therapy widely used in Europe that uses a reactive hormone carrying radiation to bind to tumors to stop growth. Lutathera is expected to be approved by the FDA in 2017, but we offer it through clinical trials. We also provide patients with multiple treatment options including surgery, hormone therapy, chemotherapy and radiation therapy.
How is the Institute helping patients?
Dr. Liu: Neuroendocrine cancer can be a treatable cancer. Our multi-disciplinary approach helps patients with diagnosis and treatment for a longer and productive life. Since NET treatment centers are uncommon, many patients routinely fly across the country and even to Europe for care. People in the region appreciate that the Institute is in Colorado providing comprehensive treatment.
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