Sadly, the “queen of soul” Aretha Franklin passed away yesterday at age 76, due to an advanced pancreatic neuroendocrine tumor (pancreatic NET or PNET).
Beloved by countless fans for the transcendent, timeless, and deeply moving quality of her music, Aretha left a legacy that musicians and music lovers alike will cherish.
The PNET that took Aretha’s life is a rare cancer (~ six percent of all pancreatic tumors), which develop from the abnormal growth of endocrine (hormone-producing) cells in the pancreas. As Dr. Simona Glasberg, head of the Neuroendocrine Tumor Unit at the Hadassah Medical Center, explains, “One of the major issues with these tumors is their timely diagnosis, as many times they are missed. Increasing awareness within the medical community and general population of these rare tumors is extremely important, as is the timely referral to a specialized center that is experienced in treating these rare cancers.”
Whereas PNETs tend to grow slower than the usual aggressive pancreatic adenocarcinoma, Dr. Glasberg says, “they always have a malignant potential to spread locally or to other organs. Often, they are diagnosed at an advanced stage of metastatic disease.”
The symptoms of PNETs are usually related to the tumor-mass growth and spread (e.g., abdominal pain, weight loss, loss of appetite, jaundice, etc.). However, in about 25 percent of cases, these tumors may produce specific hormonal-hypersecretion syndromes, causing diarrhea, severe weakness, sweating, and loss of consciousness.
The Neuroendocrine Tumor Unit at Hadassah, with its dedicated multidisciplinary team, is a global leader in NET treatment and research. Recently, the European Neuroendocrine Tumor Society (ENETS) certified Hadassah’s unit as the only center of excellence in Israel and the Middle East.