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Carcinoid Tumors and Carcinoid Syndrome

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Carcinoid is the most commonly occurring neuroendocrine tumor originating from the digestive tract. This tumor originates from specialized primitive stem cells in the digestive tract. Prevalence is approximately 50,000 cases per year in the United States.  Incidence is approximately 1.5 cases per 100,000 people and accounts for close to 2,500 new cases per year. The tumor may remain clinically silent for many years prior to diagnosis.

Carcinoid tumors can be benign or malignant, and most begin in one of five sites:

  • Appendix
  • Small intestine
  • Rectum
  • Pancreas
  • Bronchus (an air passage that links the windpipe to the lung)

Although less common, carcinoid tumors also can begin in the stomach, pancreas, colon, liver, ovaries, testes, or cervix. Frequent sites of metastasis include lymph nodes, liver and, less commonly, bone. Risk of metastatic spread correlates with size of the original tumor.

Most Common Carcinoid Signs and Symptoms

  • Skin-flushing, especially head and neck — 84 percent
  • Diarrhea — 70 percent
  • Heart disease (sudden increase in heart rate and blood pressure) — 3 percent
  • Wheezing — 17 percent
  • Skin changes — 5 percent

Depending on the tumor's location, symptoms may also include:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Anemia
  • Pneumonia
  • Cough
  • Spitting up blood

Diagnosis and Treatment

The specialists at the UPMC Neuroendocrine Cancer Treatment Center use a variety of diagnostic techniques such as imaging studies and pathology (lab) testing to determine the precise location and extent of the carcinoid tumors. These diagnostic tests also help us to identify the course of treatment, which may include surgery and, in some cases, chemotherapy or radiation therapy.

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