Symptoms and diagnosis of carcinoid tumours

Symptoms

A carcinoid tumour often causes no symptoms in its early stages. In fact, many patients do not develop symptoms for a long time. Sometimes carcinoid is found by chance during surgery for another condition or on an X-ray. The symptoms depend on where the tumour is found.
They can include:

  • Pain
  • Weight changes
  • Coughing
  • Breathing changes
  • Tiredness (fatigue)
  • Change in your bowel habit
  • Bleeding from your back passage (rectum)

Do talk to your GP if you are worried. Remember that all of these symptoms can be symptoms of conditions other than cancer.

Screening

Testing for carcinoid tumours when you have no symptoms is called screening. There is no national carcinoid screening programme in Ireland at present because the condition is very rare. If you are concerned about carcinoid, talk to your GP.

Diagnosis

First visit your family doctor (GP) if you are worried about any symptoms. If your doctor has concerns about you, he or she will refer you to a hospital. There you will see a specialist who may arrange more tests. You may need some of the following tests: Chest X-ray: An X-ray of your chest can tell if there is anything abnormal about your lungs.

Special tests:

  • Urine tests
  • Octreotide scan
  • I-123 MIBG scan

Urine tests: Your doctor may give you a special container and ask you to collect your urine for 24 hours. This is done to check your urine for unusual levels of certain chemicals.

Octreotide scan: This scan is used to find carcinoid tumours in your body. You are first given an injection of a hormone drug called octreotide into your vein. Octreotide is slightly radioactive and normally absorbed by the carcinoid cells in your body.
Some hours later you will be scanned. The scan takes an hour and during it you will have to lie very still on a bed. The scan itself does not hurt. The next day you return to the hospital for another scan.

I-123 MIBG scan: This scan is like an octreotide scan. The drug I-123 MIBG is slightly radioactive and also absorbed by carcinoid cells. You will get an injection into your vein and after a few hours a scan is taken. You will need another scan the following day. The test can show if carcinoid cells are present.
Visit your family doctor (GP) first if you are worried about any symptoms. If your doctor has concerns about you, he or she will refer you to a hospital. There you will see a specialist who may arrange more tests. You may need some of the following:

Other tests

  • Blood tests
  • CT scan
  • PET scan
  • MRI scan
  • Biopsy
  • Ultrasound scan

The above scans can help to stage the cancer. This means finding out the size of the cancer and if it has spread anywhere else. This can help your doctor to decide on the right treatment for you.

Learn more about the above tests

Call our National Cancer Helpline

Freephone 1800 200 700 to talk to a specialist cancer nurse
It's open Monday-Thursday from 9am to 7pm and Friday from 9am to 5pm