Carcinoid Syndrome

A group of symptoms called Carcinoid syndrome commonly appear when a person experiences cancer (carcinoid tumors). Certain cells produce chemicals and these tumors begin in those cells. They also begin to release an increased amount of chemicals in the bloodstream. The common symptoms include red and warm skin that occurs suddenly, breathing problems, fast heart rate, and others. The previous symptoms are similar to other conditions including menopause or asthma.

These tumors often start to grow in the intestines, stomach, lungs, pancreas, testicles, or ovaries. In most cases, if an individual experiences carcinoid syndrome, it means that cancer has spread often to the liver or lungs.

This cancer type can be cured if it is early diagnosed and removed by surgery. Otherwise, it has no cure and the proper treatment can help a person to lessen the symptoms and improve the quality of life.

Causes

The main cause of this cancer type is the chemicals that tumors produce. When these chemicals go to your bloodstream, means that cancer has spread to your liver or another organ. As a result, these chemicals travel throughout your body and provoke symptoms.

Symptoms

Those who have carcinoid syndrome experience the following symptoms. Examples include:

  • Diarrhea
  • Fast heartbeat
  • Sudden hypotension (high blood pressure)
  • Small widened blood vessels on the face
  • Shallow breathing or wheezing
  • Pink, red, or purple skin

In case you experience any of the symptoms listed above or any others, immediately contact your healthcare professional.

What are Possible Carcinoid Syndrome Complications?

Check below some health problems that may occur in people with carcinoid syndrome:

  • Carcinoid crisis – This occurs when a person experiences severe blushing, breathing problems, and confusion. It is usually a medical emergency because the previous symptoms can be life-threatening.
  • Bowel blockage – Digestive problems can appear in case the tumor is in the lymph nodes near the small intestine. It causes severe abdominal pain and vomiting. In such cases, people often need surgery.
  • Carcinoid heart disease – The heart valves become thick and leak and medications can help with this complication. However, some people require heart surgery.

Diagnosis

Mostly, physicians perform a physical examination if they think you have carcinoid syndrome. They can also ask you some questions about your symptoms and medical history. In case they are not sure whether you have this condition or not, you may need to do some tests that will help to confirm carcinoid syndrome. Examples include:

  • Urine Test – This test involves collecting urine for 24 hours and checking it in the laboratory for high hormone levels.
  • Blood Test – This is done to check for chemicals that tumors release.
  • Imaging Tests – Doctors usually order you to do a CT scan or MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) to get pictures of your organs. In some cases, they may perform a radionuclide scanning, which involves a small amount of radioactive substance that is injected into the patient’s bloodstream. Therefore, the organs absorb that substance which helps to determine with a special camera the tumor location.

Treatment

Doctors to treat this syndrome usually need to treat the underlying tumors. Mostly, doctors prescribe a combination of treatments to treat this condition. Check below some examples:

  • Surgery – Surgeons can remove completely the organ that has tumors (such as the appendix) or remove just a part of the affected organ. Physicians can also use an electric current to burn or cryosurgery to freeze the tumor. Radiofrequency ablation is another option to get rid of tumors. This procedure involves electrical energy that is sent through a special tool to kill the cancer cells in the tumor.
  • Chemotherapy – This method involves strong medications used to kill cancer cells. These drugs can be taken orally or via injection.
  • Radiation – This option can help to prevent the multiplying of cancer cells or destroy them. Moreover, doctors will place a small quantity of radioactive substance in or near the tumor.
  • Liver Therapy – This treatment helps to destroy cancer cells in the liver by stopping the blood supply to the tumors. During this procedure, doctors put a catheter into an artery that supplies the liver with blood. Through this catheter is injected a substance that interrupts the blood flow to the tumors.
  • Biologic Drugs – These medicines boost the immune system which helps kill cancer cells. Another name for this treatment is immunotherapy.
  • Drug Therapy – This treatment involves injections (including Lanreotide and Octreotide). They help to lessen the symptoms and may help to stop tumor growth. These medications work by attaching to carcinoid cells and stopping the production of chemicals that go into the bloodstream and cause symptoms. Potential adverse reactions of these medicines are nausea, gallstones, pain, or bruising at the injection site.

Lifestyle Changes

The symptoms can worsen even with small changes (these include foods and drinks that usually trigger symptoms). Check below some foods and drinks to avoid:

  • Nuts
  • Alcohol
  • Cheese
  • Chili peppers
  • Hot liquids

Usually, it takes some time to learn about all triggers. Furthermore, some people may face absorbing nutrients problems. As a result, they can experience weight loss, weakness, and other health problems. It is advised to adopt a healthy diet and discuss with your doctor about vitamins and supplements you may need.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the life expectancy of people with this condition?

The 5-year survival rate ranges between 78%-95% and a 10-year survival rate is about 77%-90%. However, in case the tumors spread to lymph nodes the 5-year survival rate decreases to 37%-80%. Discuss with your physician for more details.

What is the most common cause of carcinoid syndrome?

Usually, this condition occurs due to neuroendocrine tumors of the small intestine.

What are the possible complications of this syndrome?

One of the most common complications is heart failure. Those who experience this complication also notice fatigue and shortness of breath. However, bowel blockage and carcinoid crisis are other complications that can also occur in people with carcinoid syndrome. If you have any other questions, ask your healthcare provider.

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