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Carcinoid Syndrome

What is carcinoid syndrome?

Carcinoid syndrome is characterized by a group of symptoms and individual experiences related to the presence of a rare cancerous carcinoid tumor; the symptoms of this syndrome start because the carcinoid tumor releases chemicals into the blood stream. Carcinoid tumors are most common in the digestive tract or lining of the lungs. Other areas carcinoid tumors are found are in the pancreas, testicles and ovaries.

What are the symptoms of carcinoid syndrome?

Carcinoid syndrome is difficult to diagnose because the symptoms are similar to the symptoms of other diseases such as irritable bowel syndrome and menopause. The symptoms of carcinoid syndrome include:
  • Flushed, hot red skin, and at times the skin can even appear purple in color.  This symptom is exacerbated by exercise, stress and alcohol consumption
  • Frequent, watery stools with associated abdominal pain
  • Shortness of breath and wheezing
  • Night sweats
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Fatigue

What causes carcinoid syndrome?

Carcinoid syndrome is caused by the presence of a cancerous carcinoid tumor and the chemicals it releases into the blood stream. The exact cause of carcinoid tumors in unknown. Serotonin is a common chemical secreted by carcinoid tumors. Release of this and other chemicals, especially when they cannot be processed by the liver, leads to the symptoms of carcinoid syndrome. Individuals with tumors of the liver or other underlying liver dysfunction have a higher incidence of carcinoid syndrome.  Carcinoid tumors of the lungs that release chemicals into the blood stream without being processed by the liver also lead to higher rate of carcinoid syndrome.

Are there treatment options for carcinoid syndrome?

There is no known cure for carcinoid syndrome.  The primary treatment is the removal of the carcinoid tumor. Treatment options for carcinoid syndrome include:
  • Surgery to remove the tumor if it has not spread (metastasized) to other parts of the body
  • Medications to assist in blocking the chemicals secreted by the tumor
  • Chemotherapy to shrink the carcinoid tumor
  • Avoidance of alcohol and food that upset the digestive systems can help limit the severity or frequency of symptoms
  • Use of multivitamin is sometime recommended to assist in the replacing essential vitamins and minerals lost by excessive diarrhea

Where can I find more information about carcinoid syndrome?

Carcinoid Syndrome Articles