Carcinoid syndrome occurs when a rare cancer tumor called carcinoid tumor secretes certain chemicals into your bloodstream, causing various signs and symptoms. A carcinoid tumor, which is a type of neuroendocrine tumor, most commonly occurs in the gastrointestinal tract or lungs.
Carcinoid syndrome usually occurs in people with advanced carcinoid tumors. Treatment for carcinoid syndrome usually involves treating the cancer. However, since most carcinoid tumors only cause carcinoid syndrome at an advanced stage, a cure may not be possible. Medications may be recommended to relieve your symptoms of carcinoid syndrome and make you more comfortable.
The signs and symptoms of carcinoid syndrome depend on the chemicals the carcinoid tumor secretes into your bloodstream.
The most common signs and symptoms are:
Reddening of the skin. The skin on your face and upper chest is warm and changes color – from pink to purple. Flushing episodes can last a few minutes to a few hours or more.
Hot flashes can occur for no apparent reason, although sometimes they can be triggered by stress, exercise, or alcohol use.
Skin lesions on the face. Purple areas of spider veins may appear on your nose and upper lip.
Diarrhea. People with carcinoid syndrome may experience frequent, watery stools, sometimes accompanied by abdominal cramps.
Difficulty breathing. Asthma-like signs and symptoms such as wheezing and shortness of breath may occur along with reddening of the skin.
Fast heartbeat. Rapid heartbeat periods could be a sign of carcinoid syndrome.
Carcinoid syndrome is caused by a carcinoid tumor that secretes serotonin or other chemicals into your bloodstream. Carcinoid tumors most commonly occur in the gastrointestinal tract, including the stomach, small intestine, appendix, colon, and rectum.
Only a small percentage of carcinoid tumors excrete the chemicals that cause carcinoid syndrome. When these tumors secrete the chemicals, the liver usually neutralizes the chemicals before they can travel through your body and cause symptoms.
However, when an advanced tumor spreads (metastasizes) to the liver itself, it can secrete chemicals that are not neutralized before reaching the bloodstream. Most people with carcinoid syndrome have advanced cancer that has spread to the liver.