September 1, 2014
ABCDEFGHIJKLMNOPQRSTUVWXYZ

Cancer

 Health Home >> Cancer >> Conditions 

Carcinoid Syndrome



The Facts on Carcinoid Syndrome

Carcinoid syndrome is a pattern of symptoms that occurs in people who have carcinoid tumours. The symptoms are caused by hormones and chemicals produced by the carcinoid tumour and, in many cases, these symptoms are actually worse than the effects of the growth of the tumour itself.

Carcinoid tumours were first identified in Europe in the mid-1800s as a specific, distinct type of growth. The name carcinoid was first used in 1907 to classify them as a type of tumour that fit midway between malignant (cancerous) tumours and ones that were benign (non-malignant).

Carcinoid tumours can be widely distributed throughout the body, but are usually found in the digestive system (50% of cases) or lung (30% of cases). In children, carcinoid tumours are usually found in the appendix. Once the appendix is removed, the cancer is usually cured.

Carcinoid tumours produce too much of certain chemicals and hormones and this can cause reactions in the body. One common chemical produced by carcinoid tumours is a hormone called serotonin. This hormone makes the blood vessels dilate (widen) and causes increased blood clotting, intestinal secretions, and motility (causing diarrhea).

Carcinoid tumours are rare, with 3 cases in every 100,000 people. It makes up less than 1% of all cancers.

Causes of Carcinoid Syndrome

Carcinoid tumours have been called "cancers in slow motion" because they tend to grow so slowly that people who have them usually live for many years, and sometimes have a normal lifespan. Unfortunately, some carcinoid tumours produce large amounts of hormones and other potent chemicals. This can cause "carcinoid crisis" or carcinoid syndrome, which may occur infrequently at first but may gradually happen more often.

Carcinoid syndrome often occurs without an obvious cause, but may be brought on by alcohol use or physical or emotional stress.

Serotonin is the most commonly produced chemical, but not all carcinoid tumours produce the same large variety of chemicals and hormones. It's not known which of the substances cause each of the symptoms of carcinoid syndrome.





Symptoms and Complications of Carcinoid Syndrome

The most pronounced and bothersome symptoms of carcinoid syndrome include bright red flushing of the head and neck, abdominal pain, and diarrhea (which may be severe). Sometimes, people will also notice wheezing. The flushing often happens after emotional stress, eating certain foods, or drinking alcohol or a hot beverage.

Other less common symptoms include a rapid pulse, swelling in the face and around the eyes, low blood pressure, and weight loss due to diarrhea or the inability of the intestines to absorb nutrients. A few people may experience impotence and a decreased sex drive. A specific type of heart valve damage can occur in some cases, as well as other related heart problems.

The symptoms of carcinoid syndrome are usually controllable with medication. Most complications arise as a result of the carcinoid tumour, and the disease will progress differently for people with carcinoid syndrome than in those without it. However, the outlook is much better now that there are available treatments (e.g., octreotide*).

Many years ago, the harmful effects of the potent hormones released by the tumours were fatal, and death due to the tumour's growth and spread occurred in 25% of cases. Today, with effective combinations of treatments using medication, various types of surgery, chemotherapy, and other methods, the average survival time has improved.

Continued... 1 | 2 | Next

Ad

The contents of this site are for informational purposes only and are meant to be discussed with your physician or other qualified health care professional before being acted on. Never disregard any advice given to you by your doctor or other qualified health care professional. Always seek the advice of a physician or other licensed health care professional regarding any questions you have about your medical condition(s) and treatment(s). This site is not a substitute for medical advice.

© 1996 - 2014 MediResource Inc. - MediResource reaches millions of Canadians each year.