A rare and slow-growing form of cancer, carcinoid tumors may develop anywhere in the body where neuroendocrine (hormone-producing) cells exist. Roughly 75% of carcinoids arise in the gastrointestinal (GI) tract, particularly the small intestine. Another 24% occur in the lung and the remaining 1% occur everywhere else.
Since carcinoid tumors often exist for years without yielding symptoms, early diagnosis is difficult. The tumors frequently are not discovered until they become large enough to cause discomfort, but they can be found during an exam when the doctor is looking for something unrelated, or during a surgery for another digestive system condition.
Although accurate statistics for carcinoid tumors are not readily available, it is estimated that roughly two out of every 100,000 people develop carcinoid tumors.
Because the cause of carcinoid tumors is still not well understood at this time, there is no way to prevent carcinoid tumors. People who have a family history of the rare familial syndrome, multiple endocrine neoplasia 1 (MEN1), may have a slightly higher risk of developing carcinoid tumor. Smoking may also increase the risk, so by not starting or quitting smoking, your risk may be reduced.
Diagnosing carcinoid tumors is difficult because symptoms often do not appear until years later. And even after symptoms of advanced tumors such as diarrhea, skin flushing and asthma-like wheezing become evident, misdiagnosis is common.
Identifying carcinoids early in their development sometimes occurs incidentally during routine medical examinations such as colonoscopies and physicals or during surgeries such as appendectomies, since the appendix can be an origination site for carcinoids. Although a CT scan may detect carcinoid tumors, it is not an effective screening method to reveal them early in their development.
Several factors are considered by doctors treating patients who have been diagnosed with a carcinoid tumor. Tumor size and metastasis (spread) are among the many factors weighed.
Surgery is often the best option for small tumors that have not spread. Chemotherapy and conventional radiation therapy may be employed to shrink tumors, although the effectiveness of each is limited. Other treatment methods, including internal radiation therapy and biologic therapy, are either being tested or planned for study in clinical trials.
Cancer is a journey that no one needs to take alone. There are many forms of support to help you through every stage: diagnosis, treatment and survivorship. Whether you meet with other cancer survivors like yourself, use complementary therapies or individual coping mechanisms, support is available. Listed below are just some of the ways to find help and hope.
Getting together with other cancer patients in a support group is a valuable coping tool. Support groups are usually focused on a single disease or topic, such as breast cancer survivors or people coping with life-changing side effects from their cancer or cancer therapy. These groups allow participants to meet others like themselves and seek strength from each other. Most major cities and cancer hospitals offer support groups that meet weekly or monthly. There are also dozens of online support Web sites or message boards for those who may not have access to a traditional meeting.
Complementary therapies are used in conjunction with cancer treatment, in an effort to reduce treatment side effects, ease depression and anxiety and help cancer patients take their mind off the negative aspects of their situation. Complementary therapies may include mind-body exercises like yoga, Tai Chi and Qi gong; visualization or guided imagery; using art or music as therapy and self-expression, and traditional Eastern medicine such as acupuncture.
Staying physically active as much as possible during cancer treatment has many positive benefits. Physical activity stimulates the release of endorphins, a hormone that helps elevate mood, as well as decreasing feelings of fatigue.
Exercises for cancer patients can range from simple stretches done in the bed or chair, to more active pursuits such as walking or light gardening work. However, it’s important not to push yourself too hard. Check with your doctor before attempting any physical activity to make sure you are up to it.
Many people find it helpful to keep a journal of their cancer treatment experience. It may be as simple as recording symptoms and side effects into a notebook, or may include personal emotions and opinions about what they may be going through. Journals can be private, like a diary, or shared with loved ones and even strangers.
Increasingly, people are turning to the Internet to share their cancer journey with the world at large and to seek out others with similar experiences. Many cancer patients have begun their own Web log, or “blog” to publicize their battle with cancer. Twitter, a mini-blogging technology that limits posts to 140 characters, has also proven to be a helpful tool for cancer patients to keep friends updated and reach out to others.