What is a Carcinoid Tumor?

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  • Written By: J.M. Willhite
  • Edited By: Heather Bailey
  • Last Modified Date: 27 May 2020
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A cancer that exhibits inhibited growth is referred to as a carcinoid tumor. Due to its delayed manifestation of symptoms, a carcinoid tumor is generally detected in its later stages of development. Frequently associated with the digestive tract and lungs, this type of tumor may originate in any part of the body. Treatment for this type of tumor is depended on the individual and the extent, or staging, of the cancer.

The development of a carcinoid tumor originates with the uncontrolled, abnormal development of cells that invade surrounding tissues and organs. There is no single, known cause for the development of these tumors. It has been asserted that the abnormal formation of these hormone-secreting cells may originate in the body's neuroendocrine system, which governs the communications associated with the nervous and endocrine systems.

In most cases, individuals with carcinoid tumors are asymptomatic, meaning they do not exhibit any obvious symptoms until the tumor reaches later-stage development. Symptom type and manifestation is generally dependent on the location of the tumor. Those who experience signs including abdominal discomfort, rectal issues such as bleeding or pain, and irregular bowel movements or obstruction may be demonstrating symptoms associated with the presence of a carcinoid tumor. Additional symptoms not necessarily localized to the digestive system include flushing or redness of the face, breathing difficulty, and chest pain.

There are a number of various tests which may be used to confirm a diagnosis of a carcinoid tumor. Individuals who experience persistent symptoms may undergo a blood test to evaluate the body's protein levels. Excessively high levels of protein may be indicative of elevated hormone secretion associated with the presence of a carcinoid tumor. A urine test may also be administered to evaluate the presence and levels of certain associated chemicals expelled from the body.

In cases where a malignant tumor is suspected, imaging tests are administered to discern its location. The individual may undergo testing that includes a computerized tomography (CT) scan, an ultrasound, or positron emission tomography (PET) scan. Additional visual testing may require the insertion of a narrow tube outfitted with a camera, known as an endoscope. Visual testing such as this is generally utilized to gain a clearer picture of areas such as the lungs, rectum, and digestive tract. When a suspected tumor has been located, a biopsy is taken to determine its composition and staging, or extent of maturation.

The early-stage detection of carcinoid tumors frequently results in the complete surgical removal of the mass. A complete excision of the tumor may not be possible if it is in the advanced stages of development. Treatment options are dependent on the location, size, and maturation of the tumor upon discovery.

When a tumor advances to the point that it is has metastasized, it generally spreads to the liver. An individual, whose tumor has spread to his or her liver, may have several treatment options available. The liver may be partially or completely removed, known as a hepatic resection, in an effort to alleviate symptoms. Radiofrequency ablation and cryoablation procedures utilize extreme temperatures, heat and cold respectively, to eradicate tumors within the liver. Additional treatment options may also include radiation and chemotherapy.

Radiation therapy involves the administration of a highly concentrated X-ray energy to the targeted area containing the cancerous cells. Individuals who undergo radiation therapy may experience side effects that include fatigue and irritation or redness at the administration site. Chemotherapy is a common treatment option that involves the intravenous or oral administration of anti-cancer drugs. Side effects frequently associated with this form of therapy include nausea, vomiting, and an impaired immunity to infections.

Individuals of advanced age and those who have a familial history of endocrine cancers may be at an increased risk for developing a carcinoid tumor. Those who smoke or who have existing medical conditions involving the digestive system may also be at a higher risk. Complications associated with this type of tumor include the development of secondary conditions, such as carcinoid syndrome, stomach ulcers, and carcinoid-induced heart disease. Individuals with a carcinoid tumor located in the lungs may be more susceptible to developing Cushing’s syndrome, a disorder which can result from the body's excessive production of the hormone cortisol.


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