Carcinoids are yellow, cancerous tumors of hormone-making cells in the gastrointestinal tract. Specifically, they are classed as neuroendocrine or amine precursor uptake and decarboxylation tumors. These tumors are typically very slow-growing and produce excess endocrines such as kallikrein (an activator of bradykinin release) and serotonin.

These tumors can be found in the intestine, stomach, or sometimes on the liver. This type of cancer can sometimes cause very little illness (in fact, some people with carcinoids that pump out serotonin report feeling somewhat high all the time). But in bad cases they cause symptoms such as diarrhea, asthma-like wheezing, heart murmurs, an enlarged liver, and a dusky appearance to the skin. Carcinoids can be diagnosed with a urine test or with a CAT scan.

There is no good established chemotherapy treatment for them, though some doctors are having success with a drug called Sandostatin (octreotide) combined with Alpha-interferon. However, if the tumors cause problems, they usually have to be surgically removed. Many people experiencing gastointestinal problems from carcinoid tumors have to be very careful of their diets and make sure they eat plenty of nutritious foods to avoid becoming malnourished. The tumors may trigger or aggravate celiac disease and other food sensitivities in some people.

July 2002 update: My mom has been suffering from carcinoids for about seven years, and recently went on Sandostatin. She'd resisted her doctor's suggestions to go on the medication because previously people had to take injections of it three times a day, as many diabetics have to take insulin. She's not fond of needles, and she didn't feel her symptoms were that bad. But recently they came out with a Sandostatin regime that only requires one shot a month, so my mom decided to try it.

The drug's helped her tremendously; she told me, "I didn't realize how bad the cancer was making me feel until I started feeling like myself again." She has lots more energy now, and her appetite has vastly improved. Other symptoms have decreased dramatically.

The only downside is Sandostatin's expense: each shot cost something over $1000 U.S. (yes, that's with three zeros, one grand a shot). Ultimately worth the price to be able to live life, and not a price you have to pay directly if you have insurance, but it may be out of reach for many.

April 2004 update: In late 2003, the Sandostatin stopped working. The tumors had taken over her liver. The doctors put her on traditional chemotherapy in January 2004. As of right now, the tumors haven't responded at all to the chemo and she is too sick and weak to keep taking it. These fucking cancers are going to kill my mom.

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