Carcinoid Syndrome

What is Carcinoid Syndrome?

Carcinoid syndrome is a secondary condition. It is caused by a carcinoid tumor sends chemicals into your bloodstream. This can cause a wide variety of signs and symptoms. These tumors usually occur in the lungs or gastrointestinal tract.

This disorder typically occurs in patients who already have an advanced carcinoid tumor. Many patients are surprised to find out that the best way to treat the disorder is to treat the cancer. Unfortunately, since most tumors of this type do not cause carcinoid syndrome until they are extremely advanced, there may not be time to cure the carcinoid syndrome before the cancer becomes fatal.

The most common treatment is to make the patient comfortable and relieve any pain that is associated with their condition.

What are the Symptoms for Carcinoid Syndrome?

Carcinoid syndrome has a lot of signs and symptoms. However, they depend on the chemicals that the tumor is releasing into the bloodstream.

Symptoms include

Flushing of the skin: The skin on the face and chest changes colors and becomes hot. The color of your skin can range from pink to dark purple. Typically, flushing episodes last between a few minutes, to a few hours. This may happen for no determined reason.  The most common reasons for flushing are stress, drinking alcohol, and exercise.

Lesions on the skin of the face: Areas on the face that appear similar to spider veins. Usually located on the noses and top lip.

Diarrhea:  Watery stools. Can be accompanied by stomach cramps. Thought to be due to the chemicals the carcinoid tumor deposits in the blood.

Difficulty Breathing:  This symptom appears similar to asthma. Typically causes wheezing and shortness of breath. Typically occurs simultaneously with flushing.

Increased heart rate: Times where the heart rate increases for a period of time.

Carcinoid Syndrome Causes

Carcinoid syndrome is caused when serotonin is released into the body’s systems. The digestive tract delivers the chemical into the blood vessels sending it to the liver, which acts are a screening device to prevent the spread of harmful chemicals to the body. When the substance bypasses the liver and remains in the bloodstream, it infects different body parts causing carcinoid syndrome.

As the chemical travels through the bloodstream, it creates a carcinoid tumor in the gastrointestinal tract or lungs. Advanced tumors in the liver and lungs are carcinoid syndrome. Genetics pass on the defective gene, increasing the risks of carcinoid tumors. Children have a fifty percent chance of inheriting the defect from an affected parent.

How is a Carcinoid Syndrome Treated?

Treatment for Carcinoid syndrome typically focuses on treating the cancer. This is because the cancer is the cause of the symptoms experienced with this disease. Other treatments may include surgery, biological therapy, cutting off the blood supply to tumors in the liver, using hot or cold therapy to kill tumors in the liver, and chemotherapy.

Carcinoid Syndrome Prevention

Much about carcinoid syndrome is unknown and when complications develop in the advanced stages, the condition is not always treatable. Sometimes, surgery is a way to remove the tumor along with medication to slow down the growth and diminish the symptoms. Cancer treatments may kill the cells in the bloodstream coupled with radiation and chemotherapy.

There are three types of tests necessary to decide the exact cause and location of the tumor. The first is a urine test to verify the substance content secreted from the serotonin. Bloods tests show the levels of chemicals related to carcinoid tumors. And imaging tests locate the primary position, size of the carcinoid tumor and other infected parts of the body before treatment is determined.

If you have a family history of this condition, learning about your own genetics and medical past may help in preventing carcinoid syndrome in yourself and your children. Talk with your doctor about your family history to make sure the medical diagnosis has considered all aspects of your health and the disease.

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Last Reviewed:
September 18, 2016
Last Updated:
November 28, 2017