What are carcinoid tumors?
Carcinoid tumors are a type of slow-growing cancer that can arise in several places throughout your body. Carcinoid tumors, which are one subset of tumors called neuroendocrine tumors, usually begin in the digestive tract (stomach, appendix, small intestine, colon, rectum) or in the lungs.
Carcinoid tumors often don’t cause signs and symptoms until late in the disease. Carcinoid tumors can produce and release hormones into your body that cause signs and symptoms such as diarrhea or skin flushing.
Treatment for carcinoid tumors usually includes surgery and may include medications.
How common are carcinoid tumors?
Please discuss with your doctor for further information.
What are the symptoms of carcinoid tumors?
In some cases, carcinoid tumors don’t cause any signs or symptoms. When they do occur, signs and symptoms are usually vague and depend on the location of the tumor.
Carcinoid tumors in the lungs
Signs and symptoms of carcinoid lung tumors include:
- Chest pain
- Shortness of breath
- Redness or a feeling of warmth in your face and neck (skin flushing)
- Weight gain, particularly around the midsection and upper back
- Pink or purple marks on the skin that look like stretch marks
Carcinoid tumors in the digestive tract
Signs and symptoms of carcinoid tumors in the digestive tract include:
- Abdominal pain
- Nausea, vomiting and inability to pass stool due to intestinal blockage (bowel obstruction)
- Rectal bleeding
- Rectal pain
- Redness or a feeling of warmth in your face and neck (skin flushing)
There may be some symptoms not listed above. If you have any concerns about a symptom, please consult your doctor.
When should I see my doctor?
If you have any signs or symptoms listed above or have any questions, please consult with your doctor. Everyone’s body acts differently. It is always best to discuss with your doctor what is best for your situation.
What causes carcinoid tumors?
It’s not clear what causes carcinoid tumors. In general, cancer occurs when a cell develops mutations in its DNA. The mutations allow the cell to continue growing and dividing when healthy cells would normally die.
The accumulating cells form a tumor. Cancer cells can invade nearby healthy tissue and spread to other parts of the body.
Doctors don’t know what causes the mutations that can lead to carcinoid tumors. But they know that carcinoid tumors develop in neuroendocrine cells.
Neuroendocrine cells are found in various organs throughout the body. They perform some nerve cell functions and some hormone-producing endocrine cell functions. Some hormones that are produced by neuroendocrine cells are cortisol, histamine, insulin and serotonin.
What increases my risk for carcinoid tumors?
There are many risk factors for carcinoid tumors, such as:
- Genetic disease. You may get carcinoid tumors if you have an illness called multiple endocrine neoplasia type 1 (MEN1). It’s a disease that’s passed down through your family. About 10% of these tumors are due to MEN1. Another condition that can raise your risk for them is neurofibromatosis type 1.
- More African-Americans than whites get carcinoid tumors in the GI tract.
- Women are slightly more likely than men to have this type of cancer.
- Most people are diagnosed with carcinoid tumors in their 40s or 50s.
- You’re more likely to get a tumor in your stomach if you have a disease like pernicious anemia or Zollinger-Ellison syndrome, which changes the amount of acid your stomach makes.
Diagnosis & treatment
The information provided is not a substitute for any medical advice. ALWAYS consult with your doctor for more information.
How is carcinoid tumors diagnosed?
A lot of times they’re found by chance. Your doctor may spot them while he’s doing an exam to look for other diseases.
If you go to your doctor because you have symptoms of a carcinoid tumor, he may do some of these tests to check if you’ve got them:
- He removes some cells from your body, and a specialist looks at them under a microscope to check for cancer. The tumor may also be tested for certain genes or proteins to help fine-tune your treatment.
- Blood and urine tests. Your doctor takes samples of both and tests them for hormones and other substances that carcinoid tumors release, such as serotonin or 5-HIAA.
- Upper endoscopy. A thin, flexible tube called an endoscope can help your doctor see tumors in the esophagus, stomach, and small intestine. He puts it through your mouth to get a view of your GI tract. You’ll get medicine that keeps you from feeling pain or discomfort while he does this.
- Your doctor inserts a thin, lighted tube through your behind to get a view of your rectum and colon. He may remove pieces of tissue to check for cancer under a microscope. Just like with an endoscopy, you’ll get medicine to keep you pain-free.
- Capsule endoscopy. For this test, you swallow a pill that has a tiny camera in it. This lets your doctor see all of the small intestine, where many carcinoid tumors begin.
- CT, or computed tomography. This powerful X-ray makes detailed pictures inside your body. It can measure the size of your tumor. It can also see whether it has spread to your liver or lymph nodes, which are small glands that are part of your immune system, your body’s defense against germs. You may get a special dye to drink, or take it in through a vein, to help show a clearer picture of the tumor.
- MRI, or magnetic resonance imaging. It uses powerful magnets and radio waves to make pictures of organs and structures inside your body. An MRI can measure the size of the tumor. Just like with the CT scan, you may need to get a special dye to create a clearer image.
- X-ray. It uses radiation in low doses to let your doctor view structures inside your body. It can look for a tumor in your lungs. Before this test, you may need to swallow a liquid containing a chemical called barium that makes the tumor easier for your doctor to see.
- Radionuclide scanning. Before this test, you’ll take in a small amount of a radioactive substance through one of your veins. This substance is attracted to carcinoid tumors. The test can show where in your body the tumor has spread.
How is carcinoid tumors treated?
Once your doctor knows what kind of carcinoid tumor you have and where in your body it is, you can start to make an action plan.
You may have surgery to remove all or part of the tumor. The type you get depends on where your cancer is located.
GI carcinoid tumors. The surgeon will make a cut in the skin and remove the tumor, along with some of the tissue around it. If the tumor is in the rectum, he may try a method that uses an electric current to heat and destroy it. This is called fulguration.
Some small carcinoid tumors of the stomach, duodenum, and rectum can be removed with an endoscope. For larger tumors, the doctor may also remove some of the stomach, colon, or rectum, along with nearby lymph nodes.
Lung carcinoid tumors. Your surgeon may remove the tumor, and parts of the airway above and below it. This is called a sleeve resection. The airway is reconnected after the surgery. For a larger tumor, the surgeon may remove a piece of your lung, or all of it. He may also take out some lymph nodes to stop the tumor from spreading.
Carcinoid tumors in the liver . If your cancer has spread there, your surgeon may remove the areas where the tumors are. This is called liver resection.
Before your operation, make sure your surgeon knows if you have carcinoid syndrome because your tumor can release a dangerous amount of hormones during surgery. You’ll get medicine beforehand to stop this from happening.
Your doctor might also try some other treatments along with surgery to make it work better. Or he might suggest them if you can’t have surgery. Some of these choices are:
Radiation. It uses high-energy X-rays to kill cancer cells. Most of the time you get this from a machine outside your body. Or, the doctor can implant radioactive seeds inside your body, near the tumor. Side effects can include fatigue and redness in the treated area. If you get radiation to the neck or throat, you may have a sore throat, cough, or get short of breath.
Chemotherapy. It uses drugs to stop cancer cells from growing. You might take these in the form of pills or get them put into you through a vein. Your doctor may use this treatment if your disease has spread. Side effects of chemo include nausea, vomiting, hair loss, loss of appetite, and an increased risk for infections.
Chemoembolization. It’s a treatment used to treat a carcinoid tumor that has spread to the liver. Chemo drugs are delivered straight to the liver through a tube called a catheter that a doctor inserts into an artery. The drug stops blood flow to the tumor.
Hormone therapy. It stops the tumor from making extra hormones. The drugs octreotide and lanreotide treat GI carcinoid tumors. You get them through a shot.
Immunotherapy. It helps your body’s immune system fight the cancer better. You may get a drug such as alpha-interferon.
Radioembolization. This is another treatment for liver cancer. Tiny radioactive beads are injected into your blood near your liver. They’ll get stuck in the vessels around the tumor and give off radiation for several days, which can kill cancer cells.
Targeted therapy. It uses drugs that aim for genes, proteins, or other substances that are unique to your cancer and that help it grow. Some medications stop the growth of new blood vessels that help carcinoid tumors survive.
Talk to your doctor about the treatment plan that’s best for you. And don’t neglect your emotional needs while this is going on. Tap into your network of friends and relatives to get support as you take care of your health. See if you can join a support group near you where you can talk to people who know what it’s like to go through treatment and recovery.
Lifestyle changes & home remedies
What are some lifestyle changes or home remedies that can help me manage carcinoid tumors?
The following lifestyles and home remedies might help you cope with carcinoid tumors:
- Find out enough about carcinoid tumors to make decisions about your care. Ask your doctor questions about your condition. Ask members of your health care team to recommend resources where you can get more information.
- Talk to others with cancer. Support groups for people with cancer put you in touch with others who have faced the same challenges you’re facing. Ask your doctor about groups in your area.
- Control what you can about your health. A cancer diagnosis can make you feel as if you have no control over your health. But you can take steps to maintain a healthy lifestyle so that you’ll better cope with your cancer treatment.
- Choose healthy meals with plenty of fruits and vegetables. When you feel up to it, work light exercise into your daily routine. Cut stress when possible. Get plenty of sleep so that you feel rested when you wake up.
If you have any questions, please consult with your doctor to better understand the best solution for you.
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