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Carcinoid Tumors: When Surgery Isn't an Option

Chemotherapy to Kill Carcinoid Tumor Cells

Chemotherapy uses drugs to help kill cancer cells. These drugs may be injected or taken by mouth. Doctors may use one drug or a combination of drugs. Because these drugs can also harm some normal cells, they can often cause side effects. Some common side effects may include hair loss, fatigue, and nausea and vomiting. Most of the side effects go away after treatment is done. In some cases, medicines can help prevent or control certain side effects, such as nausea and vomiting.

Unfortunately, chemotherapy doesn't always work well against carcinoid tumors.

"Chemotherapy is usually only used for certain types of carcinoid tumors, such as those in the pancreas," says Yao. "It has not been as effective for tumors in other areas."

Sometimes, however, doctors recommend chemotherapy when the tumors are causing severe symptoms, have spread, or other treatments have not worked. Chemo may help prevent the tumor from growing or spreading further.

Chemotherapy can also be helpful in treating tumors that have spread to the liver. In some cases, chemotherapy drugs may be injected directly into the artery that supplies blood to the liver. This gives the tumor a high dose of chemotherapy without exposing the chemotherapy to the rest of the body. In some cases, a substance that plugs up the artery may also be injected along with the chemotherapy. This starves the tumor of oxygen and nutrients and can help kill it.

Radiation Therapy for Cancer Pain

Radiation therapy is a treatment using high-energy rays to kill cancer cells. It is used to treat many different kinds of cancer. "Radiation therapy isn't really effective for this type of tumor," says Yao. But radiation can help to treat pain if the cancer has spread to the bones. And in some cases, radiation may be more effective when used in combination with other types of treatment.

New Treatments for Carcinoid Tumor

There are a number of new treatments that may also be helpful in treating carcinoid tumors. New types of drugs, called targeted therapies, are already being used for other types of cancer. Doctors are just beginning to use them to treat carcinoid tumors. "These new drugs can target specific cancer cells more accurately than other drugs, and they're not as harsh as chemotherapy," says Warner.

Researchers are also looking at a new type of radiation, called radiopharmaceuticals. This treatment uses a drug that is attracted to carcinoid tumors. This drug is then attached to a radioactive substance and injected into the body. Once the drug reaches the tumor, it gives off radiation that kills the tumor cells.

The Rare Option: Liver Transplant

In rare cases, an organ transplant may be an option when the carcinoid tumor has spread to the liver. During the transplant, the whole liver is removed and a liver from a donor is put in its place. "While liver transplant is certainly not standard treatment, it can be a benefit for certain patients," says Yao.

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