Carcinoid Tumors

Carcinoid tumors are rare, slow-growing tumors that form from neuroendocrine cells in the body. 

Carcinoid tumors are cancerous (malignant) but grow slowly. It often takes many years before carcinoid tumors are discovered.

A subset of neuroendocrine tumors, carcinoid tumors typically begin in the lungs or in areas of the digestive tract, including the stomach, small intestine, appendix, colon and rectum.

Carcinoid Tumor Causes

Why carcinoid tumors form is not clear. These tumors form in neuroendocrine cells, which can be found in organs throughout the body. Neuroendocrine cells have functions that combine functions of both nerve cells and endocrine cells, which produce hormones. As a result, carcinoid tumors can produce and secrete large amounts of serotonin, histamine, prostaglandins and other chemicals.

Some factors that increase the risk for carcinoid tumors include:

  • A family history of multiple endocrine neoplasia, type 1 (MEN 1)
  • Being a women
  • Being an older adult

Symptoms of Carcinoid Tumors

Carcinoid tumors usually don’t cause symptoms until the late stages of the disease. When symptoms do arise, they typically depend on the location of the tumor.

Carcinoid Tumors in the Lungs

Carcinoid tumors in the lungs may cause:

  • Wheezing
  • Shortness of breath
  • Weight gain
  • Purple or pink marks on the skin
  • Chest pain
  • Diarrhea

Carcinoid Tumors in the Digestive Tract

Carcinoid tumors in the stomach, small intestine, colon, rectum or appendix may cause:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Inability to pass stool because of intestinal blockage
  • Pain in the abdomen
  • Diarrhea
  • Rectal pain
  • Rectal bleeding
  • Skin flushing in the face and neck

In addition, the hormones that carcinoid tumors secrete can cause other conditions to develop, including carcinoid syndrome, carcinoid heart disease and Cushing syndrome.

Diagnosing Carcinoid Tumors

Diagnosing carcinoid tumors typically involves:

  • A physical examination
  • 24-hour urine test
  • Blood chemistry test
  • Complete blood count

These tumors can spread to other areas of the body, so diagnosing carcinoid tumors also involves classifying whether the cancer is:

  • Localized – in the primary origin of the lungs or digestive tract
  • Regional – in nearby tissues or lymph nodes
  • Metastatic – has spread to other areas of the body

Treatments for Carcinoid Tumors

At Tampa General Hospital’s Cancer Institute, we treat patients with all types of carcinoid tumors, regardless of their location or the severity of the condition.

A treatment plan for carcinoid tumors may include a combination of:

  • Surgery, such as an appendectomy or organ resection
  • Radiation therapy
  • Chemotherapy
  • Medications