Carcinoid Syndrome: 6 Typical Symptoms, Potential Complications, And Treatment

December 25, 2017

What is carcinoid syndrome?

Carcinoid tumors affect the neuroendocrine system (the system that makes hormones). Tumors of this type most commonly develop in the intestines and appendix, but can also start to grow in the lungs, kidneys, stomach, breasts, testicles, and ovaries. If the cancer affects the lungs, testicles, or ovaries, or has spread to the liver, it can lead to carcinoid syndrome.

Carcinoid syndrome is a collection of symptoms that are caused by hormones, such as serotonin released into the bloodstream by carcinoid tumors. Less than 10% of people with carcinoid tumors develop carcinoid syndrome, according to the United Kingdom’s National Health Service. The treatment usually involves various standard cancer treatments and drugs to relieve particular symptoms.

What are the symptoms of carcinoid syndrome?

Symptoms depend on the location of tumors and may include the following:

  • digestive symptoms –  diarrhea and abdominal pain;
  • loss of appetite;
  • rapid heart rate;
  • difficulty breathing;
  • abnormally low blood pressure;
  • flushing of the skin of the upper body.

What are the complications of carcinoid syndrome?

Carcinoid syndrome can lead to complications that include:

  • carcinoid heart disease, which damages the heart valves and may lead to heart failure;
  • bowel obstruction, which manifests in severe abdominal cramps, pain, and vomiting;
  • carcinoid crisis, which is a potentially fatal event that manifests in a sudden drop in blood pressure, breathlessness, confusion, and flushing.

How is carcinoid syndrome treated?

The treatment is targeted at eliminating tumors and may involve the following:

  • chemotherapy;
  • radiation therapy;
  • surgery to remove the tumor, if the cancer hasn’t progressed;
  • radiofrequency ablation (destroying cancer cells using heat);
  • cryotherapy (freezing the tumor);
  • biological therapy (also called immunotherapy), which helps the immune system fight cancer.

There are also injectable drugs to stop tumors from secreting chemicals that cause symptoms.

Source: Mayo Clinic, WebMD, NHS, Medscape

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