Understanding Rep. Castro's Cancer
- U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro, 48, shared that he had surgery to remove gastrointestinal neuroendocrine tumors. He is currently resting at home, but hopes to return to work in Washington in several weeks.
- Neuroendocrine tumors (NETs) form in the lining of the gastrointestinal tract (such as the stomach or small intestine) and form from the cells that make the hormones that control digestive juices and muscles, according to the National Cancer Institute.
- All NETs are considered malignant, or cancerous.
- Treatment for NETs primarily include surgery, chemotherapy and radiation. Surgery may be the first choice for treatment, when possible.
- Some people find that working during cancer, or soon after treatment, can bring a sense of normalcy to their lives. But know there are people out there to help you navigate the process of working or not working during a cancer journey.
Castro is a Democrat from San Antonio who was first elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 2012 and is a member of the House committees on intelligence and foreign affairs. He’s he’s currently taking a break from his work in Washington D.C. to recover at his home.Read More
Today, I successfully underwent surgery to remove gastrointestinal neuroendocrine tumors. Last summer, doctors discovered these small, slow-growing, and mostly asymptomatic tumors after a series of tests.https://t.co/sA73ioWBjo— Joaquin Castro (@JoaquinCastrotx) February 27, 2023
“My prognosis is good. I expect to be home recovering in Texas for several weeks before returning to Washington to continue my work on behalf of the people of my hometown, San Antonio,” he added.
Castro then made sure to show his appreciation for all the medical professionals and his family as he continues on his cancer journey.
“Thank you to the doctors, nurses, and medical staff at MD Anderson Cancer Center and the University of Texas Health Science Center San Antonio for their care and treatment, and thank you to my family for their love and support,” he said.
The type of cancer Castro has is reportedly serious but treatable, his staff said. Let’s take a deeper dive into what neuroendocrine tumors really are.
What Are Neuroendocrine Tumors?
Neuroendocrine tumors (NETs), in general, are a group of uncommon tumors that start in specialized cells in your neuroendocrine system, according to the Cleveland Clinic. These cells combine the traits of nerve cells and hormone-producing endocrine cells. They link your endocrine system – which manages your hormones – and your nervous system.
The word tumor does not necessarily describe a cancer, but MD Anderson Cancer Center says “all neuroendocrine tumors are considered malignant,” or cancerous.
To help break down what neuroendocrine tumors (NETs) are, SurvivorNet spoke with Dr. Renuka Iyer of Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center in New York. Dr. Iyer specializes in neuroendocrine cancer and is the co-director of the Liver and Pancreas Tumor Center.
“These [NETs] are brain- and hormone-related cancers,” Dr. Iyer said. “That’s one thing that’s different about this disease, is the fact that it can produce hormones. Some [NETs] produce hormones like insulin.”
Dr. Iyer shared some of the basics about NETs:
- Neuroendocrine tumors are rare.
- NETs are most commonly found in the GI tract.
- Because of their hormone production, they can be found anywhere.
- They’re not as easy to diagnosis as other diseases, so that can be a challenge. In fact, Dr. Iyer says, “The average patient sees seven to 12 doctors before their NETs are properly diagnosed. Most people think they’re gallstones or related to the appendix.”
Incidences of NETs have been on the rise. But experts believe this is due to an increased awareness of the tumors and improvements in diagnosis. Imaging tests such as CT and MRI scans have led to a greater discovery of the tumors, along with the improvement of the ability to distinguish NETs from other cancers in labs. Dr. Iyer specifically mentioned how the NetSpot scan came out within the last 12 or so years to detect these cancers, and it created a better method for finding these tumors.
“With better ways to find them and measure them, it is helping to move the field along,” Dr. Iyer said.
Treatment for NETs primarily include surgery, chemotherapy and radiation, according to Dr. Iyer. He said surgery was the number one preference for treatment, when possible.
“Even if it has spread – if it is at stage four – it can be surgically removed,” he said.
But drugs can also be a good option. And Dr. Iyer says that drugs used to block the hormone signals and slow the cancer spread are effective.
Working during a Cancer Journey
A cancer battle can change your life. But how you proceed to go about your days as you face the disease is entirely up to you. For Rep. Castro, he says he’s eager to return to work but doesn’t plan on doing so until he’s had some time to recover at home.
The Reality About Going Back To Work After Cancer
Whether it be for financial reasons, a sense of normalcy or simply because you like what you do, it’s important to try to make a work schedule that suits you during your cancer journey if you want to continue working. It’s also important for you to know there are people out there to help you navigate the process of not working if that’s your preferred option.
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Laurie Ostacher, a social worker at Sutter Bay Medical Foundation, previously spoke to SurvivorNet about how she helps people figure out their working situation after a cancer diagnosis.
Working during Your Cancer Treatment
“I help folks think about whether it makes sense to work,” she explained. “If you really don’t want to but are worried you’re not going to be able to make ends meet, then I’ll sit down and help them figure out, you know, with your disability insurance, would this be possible?”
Ostacher also shared the questions she might pose to people in order to help them think about how their work life might look while fighting cancer.
“I help them think about what types of conversations do you need to have with their employer? How much information do you want to share with him or her? What type of work schedule seems like it might work for you? Where might you need more flexibility?” she said.
No matter what, it’s important to do what’s right for you and seek out valuable resources like Ostacher if you need help deciding on the right course of action when it comes to working during a cancer battle.
Contributing: Anne McCarthy
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