Cancer treatment
Representational image of cancer treatment Pixabay

US presidential candidate Bernie Sanders and his family are mourning the death of Rainè Riggs, Sanders' daughter-in-law who died shockingly soon after a cancer diagnosis.

The sudden death of Riggs, 45, brought into focus the medical condition termed neuroendocrine cancer, a rare tumor in the neuroendocrine cells.

Riggs, who is married to Sanders' son Levi, fell ill some three weeks ago, reports said. A week later her condition worsened and she was admitted to the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. Tests here revealed the rare form of cancer she was afflicted with.

"Rainè became ill three weeks ago. The hospitals were stumped," the obituary reads. "We brought her home last Sunday to UPMC [University of Pittsburgh Medical Center], where she was diagnosed with neuroendocrine cancer. She died two days later," Riggs' obituary said.

What is neuroendocrine cancer?

According to Mayo Clinic, neuroendocrine tumors mostly affect the lungs, appendix, small intestine, rectum and pancreas. These are rare cancers and have varying patterns when found in various parts of the body. While some advance slowly the growth of cancerous cells in others maybe fast.

The success of treatment depends on factors like whether neuroendocrine tumors produce excess hormones, how aggressive they are, and if they have spread to other parts of the body. The location of the tumour is also an important factor, the report says.

How fatal is neuroendocrine cancer?

According to the Canadian Cancer Society, many neuroendocrine cancers grow slowly. Generally, there are higher chances of survival if this cancer is diagnosed and treated early. But the catch is that these cancers are generally hard to diagnose.

Most often neuroendocrine cancer is found in a patient when she is being treated for another problem. The fact that the symptoms are often vague makes neuroendocrine cancers tough to be detected.

The chances of a patient's survival varies with the location and stage of each neuroendocrine cancer, the CCS says. For a chart that shows 5-year observed survival by stage click here.

A study by the Harvard Medical School said pancreatic neuroendocrine tumors are becoming more common. It said in 2012 that about 44,000 Americans were to have been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer that year and of them, fewer than 3,000 would be alive in five years.

Steve jobs and tim cook
Steve Jobs(R) and Tim Cook(L)

The report cited the case of Apple co-founder Steve Jobs, who it says fared better than many other pancreatic cancer patients. Jobs died almost exactly eight years he was diagnosed. Again, in his case too, the diagnosis was accidental. The doctors identified his cancer when they did a CT scan of his kidney.

What are the symptoms of neuroendocrine cancer?

According to the Mayo Clinic, common symptoms are pain from a growing tumor, a growing lump you can feel under the skin, feeling unusually tired and losing weight without trying

The report also says that most forms of neuroendocrine tumors don't usually have discernible signs and symptoms in the beginning.