Carcinoid Tumor Treatment

Carcinoid tumors are rare, slow-growing tumors that can arise in several places throughout the body. Carcinoid tumors are part of a subset of tumors called neuroendocrine tumors (NETs) that usually begin in the digestive tract (stomach, appendix, small intestine, duodenum, colon, rectum) or in the lungs. In some cases, carcinoid tumors can begin in other parts of the body, such as the testicles or ovaries.

While carcinoid tumors are cancerous, they are unique in that they are considered to be "cancer in slow motion." In some cases, carcinoid tumors may metastasize (spread throughout the body). If you have a carcinoid tumor, you may have it for years and never know it.

While there is currently no cure for carcinoid tumors, early detection yields a promising prognosis and survival rate (about 97% if the cancer remains in the organ in which it started). Fortunately, there are many available treatments for carcinoid tumors.

Nurse and patient in infusion room

Isaac Lane Koval/Corbis/VCG / Getty Images

Home Remedies and Lifestyle

Talk to your doctor about self-care measures that may improve your signs and symptoms. Self-care measures can't replace treatment of carcinoid tumors, but they may complement it.

Avoid Stress

A cancer diagnosis is often one of the most stressful experiences of a person's life. Coping with cancer can become more challenging with added stress from work, family, or financial concerns. Everyday stress can also make coping with a cancer diagnosis more difficult.

Although stress has not been shown to cause cancer, chronic stress may weaken the immune system, causing other health problems and decreasing feelings of well-being. To mitigate stress, make time for yourself to do things you enjoy, and lean on your loved ones when you need support.

Get Enough Sleep

Sleep is essential to help the body stay healthy and heal. Try to get seven or more hours of sleep each night. Naps during the day can also help. If you are having difficulty sleeping, talk with your health care team about ways to manage.

Eating Well

Eating well means eating a variety of foods to get the nutrients your body needs to fight cancer. These nutrients include proteins, fats, carbohydrates, water, vitamins, and minerals and can help as follows:

  • Proteins: When your body doesn’t get enough protein, it may break down muscle to use as fuel. This makes it take longer to recover from illness and can lower resistance to infection. After surgery, chemotherapy, or radiation therapy, extra protein is usually needed to heal tissues and help fight infection. Good sources of protein include fish, poultry, eggs, low-fat dairy products, nuts and nut butters, dried beans, peas and lentils, and soy foods.
  • Fats: Fats and oils are important sources of energy for the body. The body breaks down fats and uses them to store energy, insulate body tissues, and transport some types of vitamins through the blood. Healthy sources of fats include seafood, safflower, sunflower, corn, and flaxseed oils.
  • Carbohydrates: Carbohydrates are the body’s major source of energy. Carbohydrates give the body the fuel it needs for physical activity and proper organ function. The best sources of carbohydrates are fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. 
  • Water: All body cells need water to function. If your body doesn't get enough fluids or if you lose fluids through vomiting or diarrhea, you can become dehydrated. Water is also essential for removing toxins in the body and helping the immune system function properly.
  • Vitamins and minerals: Malnutrition is common in cancer patients. It is estimated that up to 40% of people with gastrointestinal carcinoid tumors suffer from it. Your body needs vitamins and minerals to help it function properly and use the energy (calories) in food. Unfortunately, vitamins and minerals could counteract the effects of chemotherapy or radiation therapy. As such, ask your oncologist before you take any type of supplement.

Dietary Supplement Safety Considerations

Many people believe that a pill or supplement they find in stores is safe and it works. However, this isn't always true. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has rules to help ensure that supplements contain what their labels claim they do, but the supplement’s safety and its effects on the body are not addressed by any FDA rules. This means that unknown and potentially dangerous side effects can occur when supplements interact with cancer therapies and drugs.

It’s also been shown that many herbal products aren’t what the label says they are. Some products don’t contain any of the herb they’re supposed to. Some may contain potentially harmful drugs, additives, or contaminants that aren’t listed on the label. This means there’s no sure way to know if a supplement is safe or how it will affect your body.

If you're thinking of taking supplements or herbal products, consult your doctor to weigh the benefits of each treatment option against the possible risks and side effects.

Prescriptions

Systemic therapy is the use of medication to destroy cancer cells. This type of medication can reach cancer cells throughout the body. Medications can help slow the growth of tumors and ease the symptoms of carcinoid tumors and carcinoid syndrome, which is a more advanced stage of the disease.

Your doctor may offer treatment options and recommendations depending on several factors, including tumor location (the treatment for lung carcinoid tumors may differ from gastrointestinal carcinoid tumors), the stage and grade of cancer, possible side effects, and overall health. These treatments include chemotherapy, somatostatin analogs, surgery, and liver treatment.

Chemotherapy

Chemotherapy is a treatment that uses strong drugs to kill tumor cells. It can be given through a vein in your arm or taken as a pill. Unfortunately, carcinoid tumors do not usually respond well to chemotherapy. As such, it is generally used for tumors that have spread to other organs, are causing severe symptoms, or cannot be removed with surgery.

Somatostatin Analogs

Somatostatin is a hormone made naturally in the body. Some neuroendocrine tumors make large amounts of serotonin that lead to uncomfortable symptoms in the body. Many somatostatin analogs are used to treat carcinoid syndrome, including:

  • Sandostatin (octreotide): This is the most common drug used to treat carcinoid tumors. It is injected under the skin, into a muscle, or into a vein. It is similar to a hormone that occurs naturally in the body. Sandostatin can help relieve the flushing (a reddening of the skin due to widening of the capillaries) and diarrhea caused by carcinoid syndrome, and slow tumor growth.
  • Somatuline (lanreotide): This drug is similar to Sandostatin. It is injected under the skin once a month. It may be given by your doctor or nurse, or you may learn how to give the injection at home. 
  • Xermelo (telotristat): This drug is used along with a somatostatin analog (Sandostatin or Somatuline) to help control carcinoid syndrome diarrhea. Approved by the FDA, Xermelo is given by mouth as a pill or tablet to inhibit the production of serotonin by carcinoid tumors.

Common side effects from these medications may include pain at the injection site (Somatuline), stomach cramps, nausea, vomiting, headaches, dizziness, and fatigue.

Surgeries and Specialist-Driven Procedures

If small carcinoid tumors have not spread yet, the best treatment is total surgery in which an entire tumor is removed. However, if the tumor has become too big or has metastasized, other treatments that are available include:

Partial Surgery (Debulking)

Complete removal of carcinoid tumors may not be possible if they become advanced. Partial surgery may be performed by surgeons to try and remove as much of the tumor as possible (a process called debulking). Removing part of a tumor can help control symptoms and stop growth of cancer cells.

Liver Treatment

If carcinoid tumors have metastasized, they generally spread to the liver. A common liver treatment is radiofrequency ablation, which delivers heat treatments that cause carcinoid tumor cells in the liver to die. Another treatment is cryoablation, which uses cycles of freezing and thawing to kill cancer cells.

Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM)

Complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) is the term for medical products and practices that are not part of standard medical care. Using CAM to treat carcinoid tumors remains unclear, as there is little evidence to suggest that any of these treatments can cure cancer or slow its growth. However, there is positive evidence that some of these may help people cope with the symptoms of cancer and cancer treatments.

Examples of CAM therapies include:

  • Acupuncture
  • Massage therapy
  • Meditation
  • Yoga
  • Tai chi
  • Pet therapy
  • Music therapy
  • Art therapy

Examples of CAM products include:

  • Botanicals and herbs: Cranberry, saw palmetto, soy, echinacea, ginkgo, and Saint-John's-wort
  • Dietary supplements: Multivitamins, garlic tablets, fish oil capsules, probiotics, and natural weight-loss pills

It is important to note again that no alternative treatments have been found to be effective in treating cancer directly.

CAM Products

CAM products do not have to be approved by the FDA before being sold to the public. Also, a prescription isn't needed to buy them. Always consult your doctor before deciding to take CAM products to improve cancer symptoms or overall health.

Summary

There are many treatment options for carcinoid tumors. These include prescription treatments such as chemotherapy and somatostatin analogs, as well as procedures like surgery. Liver treatments are available if the tumor has spread to the liver, a common place for carcinoid tumors to metastasize.

In addition to these traditional treatment methods, lifestyle habits like eating well, getting enough sleep, and avoiding stress can all help with fighting cancer. While researchers have not found an alternative treatment for carcinoid tumors, some products and practices have helped patients find pain relief and reduce stress.

A Word From Verywell

With so many cancer treatments available, it can be challenging to choose the treatments that are best for you. Have open and honest conversations with your doctor about your options, and consider seeking support from others who are facing a similar diagnosis, either in your community or online. They can share their experience with various treatments and provide mental support to mitigate fear and stress.

Most importantly, hang on to hope. Cancer treatments—and survival rates—are improving. It's estimated that there are 15 million cancer survivors in the United States alone, and that number is growing. Not only are more people surviving cancer, but many are thriving, with a new sense of purpose and appreciation of life after their disease.

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Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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