What are the treatments for carcinoid syndrome? continued...
Medications. When the tumor cannot be removed through surgery, medications can help relieve the symptoms of carcinoid syndrome. The drug most commonly used to treat carcinoid syndrome is octreotide (Sandostatin). When used to treat the flushing and diarrhea associated with carcinoid syndrome, octreotide helps relieved symptoms in at least 75% to 80% of patients. Octreotide may also help slow the growth of these tumors.
Alpha-Interferon drugs may also help reduce the symptoms of carcinoid syndrome, and can be used with octreotide to help reduce the size of tumors. Drugs that reduce levels of serotonin or histamine in the body may also help manage symptoms.
"There are a number of [other] drugs undergoing clinical studies or awaiting FDA approval," says Warner. Some of these new drugs are already being used in Europe.
Ablation. Ablation uses liquid nitrogen, high-energy radio waves, or concentrated alcohol injected into cancerous tissue to destroy it. Ablation is often used when a carcinoid tumor has spread to the liver and can't be removed with surgery.
Chemotherapy. Chemotherapy may also be used to treat tumors that can't be removed by surgery. These drugs are taken by mouth or injected into a vein to help kill cancer cells. "Although chemotherapy is not very effective for many carcinoid tumors, it can be effective for certain tumors, especially those located in the pancreas," says Yao.
In some cases, chemotherapy can also be effective to treat carcinoid tumors that have spread to the liver by injecting it directly into the artery that supplies blood to the liver. This gives tumors in the liver a high dose of chemotherapy without exposing it to other parts of the body.
Radiation. Radiation uses high-energy rays to kill cancer cells. "Radiation therapy isn't really effective to treat this type of tumor," says Yao. But it may be more effective when used in combination with other types of treatment. Radiation, however, can help treat pain if the cancer has spread to the bones.
What is the prognosis for carcinoid syndrome?
Having carcinoid syndrome usually means that the carcinoid tumor has spread. But because most of these tumors are slow growing, it is still possible to treat tumors at this stage. It's not unusual for people to live for 10 to 15 years with carcinoid syndrome.