Carcinoid Tumors

What are Carcinoid Tumors?

Carcinoid tumors are extremely rare tumors. They usually start in the digestive tract or the lungs and grow extremely slow. Typically, these tumors do not produce any symptoms in their early stages. The majority of patients are not diagnosed until they are in their 60s.

In later stages of a carcinoid tumor, the patient will experience symptoms. This is because the tumor produces hormones and chemicals that lead to carcinoid syndrome. The primary treatment for carcinoid tumors is surgery. As long as the tumors have not metastasized, there is a good chance the surgery can cure the cancer.

What are the Symptoms of Carcinoid Tumors?

In the early stages of carcinoid tumors, the patient rarely experiences symptoms. In later stages of the disease, the hormones produced by the cancerous tumor typically create symptoms. Unfortunately, many patients ignore the symptoms and attribute them to other conditions or to aging. This is because the symptoms are extremely vague and do not trigger the thought that something could be wrong.

Carcinoid lung tumor symptoms

  • Wheezing
  • Mild to moderate chest pain
  • Being short of breath
  • Diarrhea, up to 10 times per day
  • Flushing of the face and neck
  • Sudden weight gain in the abdomen and upper back
  • Marks on the skin that look like stretch marks

Digestive tract symptoms

  • Pain in the abdomen
  • Diarrhea, up to 15 times per day
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Intestinal blockage causing the inability to pass stool
  • Bleeding from the rectum
  • Pain in the rectum
  • Flushing of the face and neck

Carcinoid Tumors Causes

Carcinoid Tumors begin at the cellular level, so researchers have been looking at the way DNA affects the health of our individual cells. Specifically, studies have sought to understand what causes a health cell to develop abnormally and produce carcinoid tumors. They now believe this happens when DNA triggers our body to switch on oncogenes (genes that encourage cell growth, division, and survival) or turn off tumor suppressor genes, which are those genes responsible for slowing down cell division and causing cell death. Researchers have found that changes to two of these suppressor genes influence the development of neuroendocrine tumors and neuroendocrine cancers.

While it has been established that changes in our genetic structure are responsible for determining if an individual will develop a carcinoid tumor, researchers still don’t know what causes the genes to change in the first place. As a result, the direct cause of carcinoid tumors remains unknown.

How are Carcinoid Tumors Treated?

The exact treatment for carcinoid tumors depends on the exact location of the tumor. It also is affected by whether the tumor has spread to other parts of the body. Once these tumors have been located, the doctor usually wants to remove as much of the tumor as possible. In many cases, it is not possible to remove the entire tumor.

After the doctor removes as much of the tumor as possible, they will prescribe medications that help control the symptoms of the disorder. They will also prescribe chemotherapy in an effort to kill the rest of the tumor.

In many cases, doctors will provide medications to boost the immune system and promote healing. Unfortunately, these tumors typically grow back slowly and may have to be removed again.

Carcinoid Tumors Prevention

As carcinoid tumors are caused through genetic changes, we still don’t know enough about them to determine methods for prevention. However, looking at common risk factors can help individuals reduce the possibility of contracting a carcinoid tumor. Because tumors often affect the MEN1 gene, a person with a family history of multiple endocrine neoplasia type 1 (MEN1) syndrome may be more susceptible. If this is the case, the individual is encouraged to discuss close monitoring and screening procedures with his or her doctor.

Other conditions shown to influence the development of carcinoid tumors are Von Hippel-Lindau syndrome and Neurofibromatosis. Additionally, those with the inability to produce stomach acids, as in the cases of atrophic gastritis, pernicious anemia, or Zollinger-Ellison syndrome may be at greater risk of developing carcinoid tumors.

As is the case in many types of cancer, smoking tobacco can also increase the risk of developing carcinoid tumors.

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