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Read about the possible symptoms of carcinoid tumours, and when you should see your doctor.

Early stage carcinoid tumours

Many people with carcinoid tumours don’t have any symptoms in the early stages. So doctors often diagnose carcinoid when doing tests for something else.

You might have symptoms caused by hormones released by the tumour, rather than from the carcinoid itself. These symptoms depend on where the carcinoid develops in the body.

Carcinoid of the lung

Up to half of people with lung carcinoid do not have any symptoms at diagnosis. If you do have symptoms, they might include:

  • a cough
  • coughing up blood (haemoptysis)
  • wheezing
  • shortness of breath
  • pain in the chest

Sometimes a cough and wheezing can be confused with asthma. Some people get chest infections that don’t respond to treatment with antibiotics. If your cough or breathing problems continue after you have been diagnosed, your doctor can give you treatment to help them.

Carcinoid of the stomach

If you have any symptoms, they are similar to those of other types of cancer of the stomach. Symptoms include:

  • pain
  • weight loss
  • fatigue (tiredness and feeling weak)

Carcinoid of the bowel (including the appendix)

Most people with carcinoid of the bowel do not have any symptoms. If you get symptoms, they might include:

  • tummy (abdominal) pain
  • bleeding from the back passage (rectum)
  • diarrhoea
  • pain, constipation, and feeling or being sick - due to blockage of the bowel

Some people have vague symptoms for many years. These can include abdominal pain and a change in your bowel habit. Doctors sometimes diagnose these symptoms as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), because this is very common and carcinoid tumours are rare.

A surgeon might find a carcinoid tumour accidentally when taking out the appendix for appendicitis. They usually remove the tumour completely, along with the appendix. In this situation, the tumour is often picked up at a very early stage. It might be only visible under a microscope. It might not need any other treatment.

Carcinoid syndrome

Some carcinoid tumours produce large amounts of hormones and cause carcinoid syndrome. Carcinoid syndrome is a collection of symptoms. Your symptoms depend on the hormone that the tumour is making. 

You might have:

  • flushing of the skin
  • abdominal pain
  • diarrhoea – this can be severe, some people have diarrhoea 15 or more times a day
  • loss of appetite
  • wheezing
  • fast heart rate
  • dizziness due to blood pressure that may go up or down – this can be triggered by having an anaesthetic

Flushing of the skin

Most people who have carcinoid syndrome have flushing of their skin. Your face and neck become red and you feel warm and might itch. The flushing is often unexpected and unpredictable. Some people find that flushing is triggered by certain foods, or drinking coffee or alcohol. Bending down or exercising can also trigger it.

When to see your doctor

You should see your doctor if you have any symptoms that:

  • are unusual for you
  • won't go away, or are getting worse

Although your symptoms are unlikely to be cancer, it is important to get them checked by a doctor.

Last reviewed: 
20 May 2016
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