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A carcinoid tumor often causes no symptoms in its early stages and is often found unexpectedly by a surgeon during an unrelated surgery or on x-rays for another condition.
Symptoms: gastrointestinal carcinoid tumor
Often, symptoms of a gastrointestinal carcinoid tumor only appear if the tumor metastasizes (spreads) to the liver. In that case, the hormone-like substances produced by the tumor can travel throughout the body and cause carcinoid syndrome (see below), a group of symptoms caused by hormones being released by the tumor into the bloodstream. Intestinal carcinoid tumors are most likely to cause symptoms.
People with a gastrointestinal carcinoid tumor may experience the following symptoms or signs. Sometimes, people with a gastrointestinal carcinoid tumor do not show any of these symptoms. Or, these symptoms may be caused by a medical condition that is not cancer. If you are concerned about a symptom or sign on this list, please talk with your doctor.
- Facial flushing (redness and warm feeling over the face)
- Abdominal pain (caused by blockage of the intestines)
- Heart disease
- Intestinal bleeding
- Pellagra (scale-like skin sores, diarrhea, and mental disturbances)
- Melena (dark, tarry stools that contain blood and usually indicate there is bleeding somewhere in the gastrointestinal tract)
Symptoms: lung carcinoid tumor
A carcinoid tumor in the lungs causes symptoms that result from hormones bypassing the liver and entering the bloodstream. A lung carcinoid tumor is far less likely to cause carcinoid syndrome (see below) than a gastrointestinal carcinoid tumor.
People with a lung carcinoid tumor may experience the following symptoms or signs. Sometimes, people with a lung carcinoid tumor do not show any of these symptoms. Or, these symptoms may be caused by a medical condition that is not cancer. If you are concerned about a symptom or sign on this list, please talk with your doctor.
- Cough (with or without bloody sputum or phlegm)
- Post-obstructive pneumonia (when a tumor blocking a large air passage causes an infection)
Carcinoid syndrome is more common in people who have had a carcinoid tumor for many years. Approximately 60% of people with a carcinoid tumor eventually develop carcinoid syndrome.
People with carcinoid syndrome may experience the following symptoms or signs. Sometimes, these symptoms may be caused by a medical condition that is not carcinoid syndrome. If you are concerned about a symptom or sign on this list, please talk with your doctor.
- Facial flushing
- Shortness of breath
- Wheezing or asthma-like symptoms
- Fast heartbeat
- Heart murmur
- Unexplained weight gain
- Secondary diabetes
- Increased body and facial hair
- High blood pressure and significant fluctuations in blood pressure
- Neurosis (a psychological or behavioral disorder primarily characterized by anxiety) and psychosis (a severe emotional and behavioral disorder that can cause a person’s mental capacity to become very distorted or disorganized, which may interfere with the person’s ability to cope with the demands of everyday life)
Stress, strenuous exercise, and drinking alcohol may worsen these symptoms.
Carcinoid crisis is a term used when all of the symptoms of carcinoid syndrome occur at the same time. Carcinoid crisis is the most serious and life-threatening complication of carcinoid syndrome and generally occurs after a person has already experienced some symptoms of carcinoid syndrome. Carcinoid crisis may occur suddenly, or it can be brought on with stress, chemotherapy, or anesthesia. A carcinoid crisis may be prevented and successfully treated with octreotide (Sandostatin), a medication that helps raise low blood pressure and control the production of hormones.
Below are some common symptoms of a carcinoid tumor, followed by information on how each can be managed. Talk with your doctor about each symptom and how it can be treated. Learn more about managing common cancer symptoms and treatment side effects.
Facial flushing. Avoid stress. Ask your doctor about certain substances and foods, including alcohol, that cause facial flushing, and avoid them.
Wheezing. Ask your doctor about the use of a bronchodilator (medication that relaxes the muscles in the lungs to make breathing easier).
Diarrhea. Ask your doctor about the use of anti-diarrheal medications.
Carcinoid syndrome. Ask your doctor about the use of octreotide (the most effective single medication against carcinoid syndrome).
Heart problems. Tell your doctor immediately and ask about the use of diuretics (drugs that increase the amount of urine; diuretics act by increasing function of the heart).
Your doctor will ask you questions about the symptoms you are experiencing to help find out the cause of the problem, called a diagnosis. This may include how long you’ve been experiencing the symptom(s) and how often.
If a carcinoid tumor is diagnosed, relieving symptoms and side effects remains an important part of cancer care and treatment. This may also be called symptom management, palliative care, or supportive care. Be sure to talk with your health care team about symptoms you experience, including any new symptoms or a change in symptoms.
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