From Filix Kencana, MD, a medical oncologist and hematologist with OHC

November 14, 2018

November is Carcinoid Cancer Awareness Month and since not many people are aware of this condition, I’d like to answer some of the most commonly asked questions about this condition.

What is carcinoid tumors/cancer?

Carcinoid tumors (also called neuroendocrine tumors) are rare, slow-growing cancers that usually start in the lining of the digestive tract and lungs. These tumors are a type of neuroendocrine tumor – growths that begin in the cells of the nervous and hormonal systems.

How common are they?

Each year, about 8,000 adults in the United States (0.002% of the current US population) are diagnosed with a carcinoid tumor. The most common place for this type of tumor is the small intestine. People are most often diagnosed in their early 60s.

Are they curable?

These tumors often grow slowly, and doctors often find them when they’re at an early stage, which makes them easier to treat. Carcinoid tumors can be benign (non-cancerous) or malignant (cancerous).

  • Benign carcinoid tumors are typically small and usually can be removed completely and, in most cases, they do not come back.
  • Cells from benign carcinoid tumors do not spread to other parts of the body.
  • The 5-year survival rate for people with a GI tract carcinoid tumor that has not spread to other parts of the body ranges from 65% to 90%, depending on the stage and location of the tumor.
  • If the tumor has spread (malignant) to nearby tissue or the regional lymph nodes, the 5-year survival ranges from 46% to 78%. If the tumor has spread to distant areas of the body, survival rates range from 14% to 54%.

What causes a carcinoid tumor to form?

We don’t yet know what exactly causes them but these factors may increase your risk:

  • Genetic disease. You may get carcinoid tumors if you have an illness called multiple endocrine neoplasia type 1 (MEN1). It’s a disease that’s passed down through your family. About 10% of these tumors are due to MEN1. Another condition that can raise your risk for them is neurofibromatosis type 1.
  • Race. More African-Americans get carcinoid tumors in the GI tract than Caucasians.
  • Gender. Women are slightly more likely than men to have this type of cancer.
  • Age. Most people are diagnosed with carcinoid tumors in their 50s and 60s.
  • Conditions. You’re more likely to get a tumor in your stomach if you have a disease like pernicious anemia or Zollinger-Ellison syndrome, which changes the amount of acid your stomach makes.

What are the symptoms?

Depending on the location of the tumor, you might experience:

  • Stomach pain
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Coughing bloody mucus
  • Wheezing
  • Blood in your stool
  • Diarrhea
  • Constipation
  • Weight loss

How is it treated?

Your doctors would determine the best treatment option for your specific situation. It may include surgery to remove the tumor, chemotherapy, radiation, hormone therapy, targeted therapy, or immunotherapy. As with any diagnosis, it’s always best to meet with your cancer doctors and care team to discuss the best plan specially for you.

Is there anything I can do to reduce my risk?

There is no known way to prevent gastrointestinal carcinoid tumors. However, since smoking might increase the risk of carcinoid tumors of the small intestine, not starting or quitting smoking may reduce the risk for this disease.

For more information about carcinoid tumors or to speak with a cancer doctor, call OHC at 1-888-649-4800 or visit ohcare.com.

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