Carcinoid Syndrome: Overview

Medically Reviewed by Dr. K. on May 19, 2022.

Carcinoid Syndrome

Carcinoid syndrome is a collection of symptoms brought about by a rare tumour called a carcinoid tumour. This tumour starts in the cells that line the digestive tract or lungs and grows steadily.

Carcinoid syndrome affects just around 20% of those with a carcinoid tumour. Symptoms of carcinoid syndrome may affect various parts of the body. To relieve these signs and symptoms, you should take precautions.

Causes of Carcinoid Syndrome

The underlying cause of carcinoid syndrome is not clear. If you have all of the following, you might be at a higher risk:

  • African American decent
  • Possess a specific genetic disease
  • Have a condition with your stomach's ability to produce acid

When a carcinoid tumour becomes advanced and emits vast quantities of hormonal substances such as serotonin or other substances, carcinoid syndrome develops.

Symptoms of Carcinoid Syndrome

Carcinoid tumours produce no symptoms in many cases. The accelerated release of hormonal substances in advanced cases, where the tumour has spread, may trigger a variety of symptoms. This may involve the following:

  • Facial flushing, redness, and a rapid surge of warmth in the face, which may be mistaken for menopause's hot flashes.
  • Diarrhea
  • A rapid heart rate.
  • Wheezing.
  • A drop in blood pressure

Other indications, such as abdominal pain or intestinal bleeding, can vary depending on where the carcinoid tumour is located. Complications such as damage to heart valves, which causes shortness of breath and a heart murmur, can cause symptoms to worsen with time.

Your doctor will inform you about your symptoms, perform a medical assessment, and prescribe diagnostic exams, MRI testing or other scans, and an endoscopy to establish a diagnosis or detect a carcinoid tumour.

Symptoms may be triggered by stress, infection, medications, alcohol, or certain medical procedures.

Red Flag Symptoms

If you have severe symptoms, get medical help right away because you may be experiencing a life-threatening carcinoid crisis. The below are examples of severe red flag symptoms:

  • Severe, lasting flushing
  • Confusion
  • Very low blood pressure
  • A very rapid heartbeat
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Bluish or purple skin color

Treatment for Carcinoid Syndrome

Many factors influence the type of treatment your doctor recommends. Your symptoms, as well as the position and size of the tumour or tumours, are both factors to consider.


If the whole tumour can be removed, then it may be able to treat the syndrome. The tumour, as well as surrounding lymph nodes and other tissue, may be removed during surgery.


Somatostatin analogues (SSA) are medications that prevent the overproduction of hormones that trigger carcinoid syndrome symptoms. One example of this kind of medication is octreotide. It's usually offered as an injection. Diarrhea and flushing are two symptoms that may fade easily. Lanreotide is a medication that works in a common way to assist with symptoms. These drugs may not shrink the tumour, but they may make it grow more slowly.

Some medications are used to treat specific symptoms. Here are a few examples:

  • Interferon is often given in combination with octreotide to relieve symptoms and delay tumour development.
  • Cyproheptadine is an antihistamine that may be used to treat histamine-producing carcinoid tumours.
  • Adults with carcinoid syndrome diarrhoea should be treated with telotristat ethyl (Xermelo) in conjunction with SSA treatment.

In addition to surgery, your doctor can prescribe the following treatments to manage the tumor's spread to the liver:

Other Treatments

Hepatic artery embolization, which cuts off the liver tumor's blood flow.

Cryoablation is a procedure that freezes the tumour.

Radiofrequency ablation (RFA) is a technique that uses heat from electric currents to destroy tumour cells.

Chemotherapy is a treatment that uses medications to stop tumour cells from growing.

Chemoembolization, which involves injecting a high dose of chemotherapy straight into a tumor-feeding blood vessel while also blocking the arteries, trapping the medicine in the tumour.

Radiation therapy is a form of cancer treatment that involves the use of high-energy X-rays or other forms of radiation to destroy tumour cells.

Improving Symptoms With Nutrition and Self-Care

You can improve the symptoms of carcinoid syndrome by taking precautions at home. Stop things that make the condition worse, for example. Stress, certain forms of physical exercise, a large meal, alcohol, and certain foods, such as aged cheeses and other tyramine-containing foods, may all contribute to tyramine toxicity.


Referenced on 2/5/2021

  1. The Carcinoid Cancer Foundation: “Newly Diagnosed: The Basics;" “Frequently Asked Questions;" “Treatment Options;" and “Nutritional Concern for the Carcinoid Patient."
  2. National Cancer Institute: “Gastrointestinal Carcinoid Tumors Treatment."
  3. University of Minnesota Masonic Cancer Center: “Gastrointestinal Carcinoid Tumors Treatment."
  4. Medical College of Wisconsin: “Carcinoid Syndrome: Symptom Management."
  5. Caring for Carcinoid Foundation: “Living Well With Carcinoid.
  6. UpToDate.

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