Carcinoid syndrome

General or Other | Oncology | Carcinoid syndrome (Disease)


Carcinoid syndrome refers to the array of symptoms that occur secondary to carcinoid tumors. These tumors release too much of the hormone serotonin, as well as several other chemicals that cause the blood vessels to open.

Carcinoid tumors can be benign or non-cancerous or malignant, cancerous. Benign carcinoid tumors are typically small (less than 1 cm). They usually can be removed completely and, in most cases, they do not come back. Cancerous carcinoid tumors are typically large (larger than 2 cm) at the time of diagnosis.

Cells from these malignant tumors can invade and damage tissues and organs near the tumor. Moreover, malignant cells can break away and enter the bloodstream or lymphatic system and spread to form new tumors in other parts of the body.

Most carcinoid tumors have no symptoms. When symptoms do occur, they may include: abdominal pain that comes and goes; bright red flushing of the face, neck, or upper chest; diarrhea; heart palpitations; low blood pressure; wheezing. Sometimes symptoms are brought on by physical exertion, or eating or drinking things such as blue cheeses, chocolate, or red wine.

Causes and Risk factors

Carcinoid syndrome is caused by a carcinoid tumor that secretes serotonin or other chemicals into your bloodstream. Carcinoid tumors occur most commonly in your gastrointestinal tract, including your stomach, small intestine, appendix, colon and rectum, or in your lungs.

Some carcinoid tumors dont have to be advanced to cause carcinoid syndrome. For instance, carcinoid lung tumors that secrete chemicals into the blood do so farther upstream from the liver — not directly into the liver, where the chemicals are processed and eliminated. Carcinoid tumors in the intestine, on the other hand, secrete their chemicals into blood that must first pass through the liver before reaching the rest of the body. The liver usually neutralizes the chemicals before they can affect the rest of the body.

Diagnosis and Treatment

Most of these tumors are found when tests or procedures are done for other reasons, such as during abdominal surgery. Tests may include: 5-HIAA levels in urine; blood tests, including serotonin blood test; CT and MRI scan of the chest or abdomen; octreotide radiolabeled scan.

Surgery to remove the tumor is usually the first treatment. It can permanently cure the condition if the tumor is completely removed. Medication also can be prescribed....