Carcinoid cancers are slowly growing cancers that originate in the neuroendocrine system. They can be differentiated from neuroendocrine tumours in that they are always malignant, where neuroendocrine tumours are growths that may be benign. This type of tumour was first distinguished in the early 1900s, with the name referring to the fact that carcinoid tumours may behave benignly despite appearing malignant. There is also a type of carcinoid cancer known as the “goblet cell carcinoid”, which is a carcinoid cancer that is falls somewhere between the exocrine and endocrine types of tumours.
Carcinoid cancers are most commonly found in the midgut area of an individual, and will often affect the respiratory tract. The respiratory tract is affected in slightly less than one third of all carcinoid cancer occurrences. Carcinoid cancers frequently occur in the gastrointestinal tract, with more than two-thirds of carcinoid tumours found in this area, including the appendix. Carcinoid cancers can also be found in the small intestine, the stomach, the rectum and, rarely, in the liver. It’s also possible for carcinoid cancers to metastasise to other areas of the body, leading to what is known as “carcinoid syndrome”. However, carcinoid syndrome is relatively rare, and is found in less than ten percent of carcinoid cancer patients.
Unlike many other types of cancer, carcinoid cancers tend not to result in symptoms throughout a patient’s life. Often, carcinoid cancers are only found during surgery or treatment for other conditions, or are found after death. This is partly because carcinoids grow very slowly, and also in part because many carcinoid growths are benign rather than malignant tumorous. Where symptoms are apparent, patients may experience high production of serotonin, which may result in fluid build-up, diarrhoea, wheezing, and abdominal cramps.
When it comes to carcinoid cancer, surgery is the most common therapy. However, if the cancer has moved to another area of the body via metastasis, then it’s possible to provide alternative treatments to halt the growth of the tumour and prolong the patient’s lifespan. However, the spread of carcinoid cancer to the liver usually results in an incurable cancer, in which case tumour suppressing and arresting treatments are the only possible treatment. Unlike many types of cancer, carcinoid cancers aren’t treated using chemotherapy or radiation therapy, as these treatments are considered to be ineffective.
In such such instances, alternative therapies designed to boost the immune system and help the patient arrest the growth of carcinoid cancer may be of some benefit, as they may improve quality of life as well as prolonging a patient’s life.