Carcinoid and neuroendocrine tumors are formed within specialized cells throughout the body, and can be found anywhere there are neuroendocrine cells. Most of the tumors originate in the gastrointestinal tract, including the small intestine, rectum, pancreas, stomach and appendix, but may also originate in organs such as the ovary, thyroid or lungs.
There are no known causes for carcinoid and neuroendocrine tumors, and they are extremely rare cancers. However, there are some very uncommon hereditary or genetic syndromes that may affect families and give rise to these tumors. Carcinoid and neuroendocrine tumors are often seen in older adults, and are rarely found in children. These tumors are more likely to develop in women rather than in men.
Carcinoid and neuroendocrine tumors generally do not cause symptoms until they are very large or spread to different areas. Not everyone will experience symptoms, but some of these cancers may produce abnormal amounts of hormones that may cause illness. Carcinoid tumors cause a specific set of symptoms classified as “carcinoid syndrome,” including:
If the tumor is caught early, it can be surgically removed.
Since carcinoid and neuroendocrine tumors do not generally cause symptoms until they are metastasized or have become significant in size, it is important to know that the following tests and procedures can help detect the tumors if they are suspected:
If the tumor is caught early, it can be surgically removed. If the entire tumor cannot be removed, chemotherapy and radiation may be used to alleviate symptoms, though they are not successful in curing the tumors. Certain medications can also aid in improving the symptoms of carcinoid syndrome, or those caused by hormones produced by the cancers. Carcinoid and neuroendocrine tumors often spread to the liver. This usually means that the diagnosis is late; however, frequently these metastases can be treated with local means such as surgery or chemoembolization: a combination of chemotherapy given directly into the liver, accompanied by embolization, tiny particles that cut off the blood supply to kill cancer cells.
The prognosis varies, depending on the location of the tumor and whether or not the tumor has metastasized. If the tumor is caught early, it can be surgically removed and cured. If not, there are generally multiple methods of trying to treat the cancers over many years.
Learn more about the patient-centered, high-quality approach to cancer care provided to patients diagnosed and treated at Lahey Clinic's Sophia Gordon Cancer Center.