Signs and symptoms of lung carcinoid tumors
About 2 out of 3 people with carcinoid tumors will have signs or symptoms that will lead to the diagnosis of the disease. But because carcinoids tend to grow slowly, they may not cause symptoms for several years in some people, or they may be found by medical tests done for other reasons.
Most carcinoid tumors start in the large bronchial tubes leading into the lung. People with these tumors may have a cough, which can sometimes be bloody, or they may have wheezing. Other possible symptoms include shortness of breath and chest pain, especially when taking deep breaths.
Large carcinoids can cause partial or complete blockage of an air passage, which can lead to pneumonia (an infection in the lung). Sometimes a doctor may suspect a tumor only after treatment with antibiotics fails to cure the pneumonia.
Some tumors start in the smaller airways toward the outer edges of the lungs. They rarely cause any symptoms unless there are so many of them that they cause trouble breathing. Usually they are found as a spot on a chest x-ray or CT scan that is done for an unrelated problem.
Symptoms caused by hormones from the tumor
Some carcinoid tumors can make hormone-like substances that are released into the bloodstream. Lung carcinoids do this far less often than gastrointestinal carcinoid tumors.
Carcinoid syndrome: Rarely, lung carcinoid tumors release enough hormone-like substances into the bloodstream to cause symptoms. This results in the carcinoid syndrome. Symptoms can include facial flushing (redness and warm feeling), severe diarrhea, wheezing, and fast heartbeat. Many patients find that stress, heavy exercise, and drinking alcohol can bring on these symptoms or make them worse. Over a long time, these hormone-like substances can damage heart valves, causing shortness of breath, weakness, and a heart murmur (an abnormal heart sound).
Cushing syndrome: In rare cases, lung carcinoid tumors may make a hormone called ACTH. This causes the adrenal glands to make too much cortisol and other hormones. This can lead to weight gain, easy bruising, weakness, drowsiness, high blood sugar (or even diabetes), high blood pressure, and increased body and facial hair.
The symptoms and signs above may be caused by lung carcinoid tumors, but they can also be caused by other conditions. Still, if you have any of these problems, it’s important to see your doctor so the cause can be found and treated, if needed.
Last Medical Review: 11/13/2013
Last Revised: 11/13/2013