What Are Bronchial Carcinoid Tumors?
Carcinoid tumors of the lung develop when neuroendocrine cells in the lungs mutate into cancerous ones. Neuroendocrine cells control hormones, help move blood and air through the lungs, and monitor how other cells in the lungs grow, according to the American Cancer Society (ACS).
Bronchial carcinoids make up roughly 1-2% of lung cancer cases, making them the rarest type of lung cancer. The Cleveland Clinic notes that between 2,000 and 4,500 people are diagnosed with lung carcinoid tumors every year in the U.S. alone.
Though bronchial carcinoid tumors are very rare, they’re relatively easy to treat and many patients can live for years or decades after a diagnosis.
However, urgent treatment is needed as bronchial carcinoids — like all other types of lung cancer — can spread (metastasize) and be fatal if left unchecked.
A lung cancer diagnosis can be scary, but help is available. Our team can provide key resources and pursue compensation on your behalf to afford treatments for bronchial carcinoids or any other type of lung cancer. Find out your eligibility right now with a free case review.
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What Causes Bronchial Carcinoid Tumors?
Neuroendocrine cells can mutate into carcinoid cells when their DNA changes.
Unlike small cell lung cancer and non-small cell lung cancer (which are much more common types of lung cancer), researchers are still trying to find out what exactly causes neuroendocrine cells to become cancerous.
Smoking and exposure to cancer-causing substances like asbestos or radon are not linked to most cases of bronchial carcinoids. That said, these substances can lead to other types of lung cancer. Anyone exposed should get regularly screened for lung cancer.
Doctors do have a good idea of how bronchial carcinoid cells can form larger tumors, though. The ACS notes that neuroendocrine tumors of the lung can form when cancer cells clump together to form carcinoid tumorlets. Tumorlets are only a few millimeters in size, but some can grow into full-size tumors.
Risk Factors for Bronchial Carcinoid Tumors
Though the exact causes of bronchial carcinoids aren’t fully understood, researchers have identified some traits that increase the risks of developing one.
Risk factors for bronchial carcinoid tumors include:
- Age: Most people that develop bronchial carcinoid tumors are between 40 and 60 years old, according to the Merck Manuals (a leading medical publication).
- Genetics: An inherited genetic condition called multiple endocrine neoplasia type 1 (MEN1) puts people at a higher risk of carcinoids. MEN1 can cause both noncancerous (benign) and cancerous neuroendocrine tumors to form in the body. Not everyone with MEN1 will develop lung carcinoids, though.
- Race: The Cleveland Clinic reports that lung carcinoids are most common in white people.
That said, anyone can develop lung carcinoid tumors. Medical journals have reported on cases where young adults and even children have suffered from bronchial carcinoids.
What Are the Symptoms of Lung Carcinoid Tumors?
Bronchial carcinoids can cause many symptoms that affect the lungs and breathing.
- Chest pain
- Collapsed lung (atelectasis)
- Coughing up blood (hemoptysis)
- Difficulty breathing and shortness of breath
- Inflamed lungs (pneumonitis)
Those with bronchial carcinoids may also develop symptoms that aren’t related to the lungs.
- Gaining weight
- Strange purple/pink skin marks
Many of the symptoms listed above are found in the other types of lung cancer. That said, some with bronchial carcinoids may develop a secondary health problem that’s not found in the other types. It’s called carcinoid syndrome.
Carcinoid syndrome occurs when the body’s neuroendocrine cells make too many hormones, leading to symptoms like high blood pressure, warmth and redness in the face, and weakness. It’s very rare in cases of lung carcinoid tumors, but it has been reported in the past.
Despite all of this, the Cleveland Clinic reports that more than 1 in 4 patients with lung carcinoids won’t have any symptoms. These patients are only diagnosed during tests for other conditions or routine scans.
It’s highly recommended to see a doctor if you have any of the symptoms listed above. Diagnosing bronchial carcinoid tumors early on is vital to getting treatment so you can improve your chances of living longer.
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Types of Bronchial Carcinoid Tumors
Doctors classify lung carcinoid tumors into several types. The first two types are based on the bronchial carcinoid tumor’s location in the body.
Types of bronchial carcinoid tumors include:
- Central carcinoids: These tumors form in the walls of the bronchi (the two main tubes that carry air from your throat into the lungs). Central carcinoids are much more common than peripheral carcinoids. They look like lesions or nodules inside or on a bronchus.
- Peripheral carcinoids: These tumors develop in the bronchioles (smaller airways that split off from the bronchi). Peripheral carcinoid tumors are usually found toward the edges of the lungs.
Bronchial carcinoid tumors are also classified by how their cells grow and divide (histology).
There are two bronchial carcinoid cell types:
- Typical: 90% of lung carcinoids are typical. Typical carcinoid cells don’t divide as quickly as atypical carcinoids and so the tumors are less likely to spread past the lungs. These features make typical bronchial carcinoids easier to treat.
- Atypical: Atypical carcinoid cells divide at a faster rate than typical cells do. As a result, atypical carcinoid tumors are more aggressive and can spread beyond the lungs and become metastatic (widespread).
Bronchial carcinoid tumors will be central and typical in most cases, but doctors can determine which type you may have when making a diagnosis.
Diagnosing Bronchial Carcinoids
Doctors must use a couple of different tests when diagnosing bronchial carcinoids. They’ll often start by noting the patient’s symptoms and possibly conducting a physical exam.
From there, doctors may ask about the patient’s overall health history and order radiology (imaging) tests to look for lesions or tumors inside the body.
Commonly used imaging scans include:
- Chest radiographs (X-rays): Up to 75% of all bronchial carcinoids are diagnosed with chest X-rays, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine.
- Computed tomography (CT) scans: CT scans can be used to find small tumors that can’t be seen on an X-ray, as they are more precise. CT scans can also be used to find instances of metastatic disease (where the cancer has spread to another spot in the body, like the lymph nodes or liver).
- Other tests: Positron emission tomography (PET) scans, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans, and other imaging tests might be used in place of an X-ray or CT scan.
Doctors may also look for biomarkers — substances that mean a patient has cancer — with other tests. For example, a blood sample may be collected to look at the levels of chromogranin A, a protein secretion that may be higher if a patient has cancerous neuroendocrine tumors in their lungs.
The tests listed above can help rule out other health problems, but in order to confirm the diagnosis, doctors need to take a biopsy. Through a biopsy, a sample of cancerous tissue or fluid is removed and looked at underneath a microscope.
The most common biopsy method used to diagnose bronchial carcinoids is called a bronchoscopy. During a bronchoscopy, doctors feed a tiny tube down the airway. This tube allows them to remove a sample for studying. Doctors may find carcinoid cells or even tumorlets during the biopsy.
Bronchoscopies can also be used to remove bronchial obstructions (like parts of a tumor or mucus buildup) to help patients breathe better, according to the Mayo Clinic.
Misdiagnosing Bronchial Carcinoid Tumors
It’s often hard to diagnose bronchial carcinoids because they are so rare and the symptoms can be vague. Misdiagnosing bronchial carcinoid tumors can be very bad as the patient might get treated for the wrong condition and the cancer will have more time to spread.
Bronchial carcinoids can be misdiagnosed as:
- Other diseases and conditions: The signs and symptoms of tuberculosis, collapsed lung, blastomycosis (fungal infection of the lung), gastrointestinal issues, and many other illnesses share symptoms with bronchial carcinoids.
- Other types of cancer: This includes large-cell neuroendocrine carcinomas and small cell carcinomas. Closely examining the cancer cells under a microscope can help doctors make the correct differentiation.
- Noncancerous growths: Those with the MEN1 gene mutation can develop neuroendocrine neoplasms (growths) that may or may not be cancerous. Doctors must take a biopsy to confirm if these are carcinoid tumors of the lung.
Further, bronchial carcinoids were sometimes called “bronchial adenomas” but this term has since fallen out of use as it doesn’t accurately describe the cancer.
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Prognosis of Bronchial Carcinoid Tumors
The prognosis (health outlook) of someone with a bronchial carcinoid tumor is better than many other types of cancer.
Patients with bronchial carcinoid tumors can often live for years or even decades if their cancer is diagnosed and treated before it spreads. The patient’s cell type and available treatment options play a big role in their prognosis.
View key prognostic statistics about bronchial carcinoids below.
How Long Can You Live With a Bronchial Carcinoid Tumor?
The average person with a bronchial carcinoid tumor lives for several years on average if they get treated.
A 2021 study from the medical journal Lung Cancer looked at nearly 240 patients with bronchial carcinoids that got treatment. These patients had a life expectancy of over 5 and a half years on average. Further, the cancer didn’t typically progress for 4 and a half years after the patients received treatment.
Survival Rates for Patients With Bronchial Carcinoid Tumors
The survival rate is the percentage of patients still alive after a set period of time has passed. Survival rates for those with bronchial carcinoid tumors are very high.
- 5-year survival rate: 92.4%
- 10-year survival rate: 88.3%
The survival rates listed above reflect patients who had their typical carcinoid tumors removed with surgery.
Those with atypical carcinoids have worse long-term survival rates since this subtype is more aggressive and prone to metastasis.
- 5-year survival rate: 56%
- 10-year survival rate: 35%
The best way for patients to live longer with bronchial carcinoids is to get treatment from experienced lung cancer doctors.
Bronchial Carcinoid Tumor Treatments
As with the other types of lung cancer, doctors have a couple of different treatment options they can use to help patients with bronchial carcinoids. Explore top treatments below.
The preferred treatment method for many cases of bronchial carcinoids is surgical resection (removal). The patient has the greatest chance of becoming cancer-free through surgery.
Surgical treatments for bronchial carcinoids include:
- Lobectomy: Both lungs are divided into several sections called lobes. A lobectomy removes the lobe closest to the main bronchial carcinoid tumor.
- Sleeve resection: This surgery is similar to a lobectomy. Doctors remove part of the airway that the cancer has grown into. The noncancerous ends of the airway are then reattached.
- Pneumonectomy: This is a more intense surgical treatment as the entire lung, along with the primary tumor, is removed.
Doctors can also perform minor surgeries as a form of palliative (pain-relieving) care if the tumor cannot be fully removed.
Radiation therapy allows doctors to shrink cancerous tumors with beams of energy. Radiation beams are similar to X-rays but are more concentrated. The radiation doesn’t hurt the patient but can cause side effects like nausea and hair loss, as it kills both cancer cells and healthy cells.
Radiation is often used to help patients who’ve already undergone surgery — particularly in cases where the bronchial carcinoid tumors have spread. Radiation can shrink the tumors (or prevent them from growing) and reduce the painful symptoms of the cancer.
Chemotherapy — cancer-killing drugs — can also be used to supplement surgeries for bronchial carcinoids. The Cleveland Clinic notes that chemotherapy is often used in cases where the cancer has spread.
Doctors give chemotherapy through the bloodstream. The drugs then make their way through the body, destroying cancer cells along the way.
Some patients with bronchial carcinoids may qualify to join clinical trials, where new lung cancer treatments are studied. Recent clinical trials have looked at how new chemotherapy treatments and different types of immunotherapy could help patients.
It may be possible to join a clinical trial depending on what treatments you qualify for, what type of bronchial carcinoid tumor you have, where the study is being conducted, and other factors. Reach out to your health care team to learn if there are lung cancer clinical trials you can join.
Help for Bronchial Carcinoid Patients
Bronchial carcinoid patients deserve the best medical care available. Getting the right treatments early on can help these patients live for years or even decades to come. It’s also important for these patients to get regular follow-up care in case the cancer comes back.
Unfortunately, getting medical care for bronchial carcinoids (or other types of lung cancer) can be expensive — even with insurance. The good news is that our team can help you afford these medical costs.
We can connect you with skilled attorneys who work tirelessly to retrieve financial compensation for qualifying lung cancer patients. This money can help patients afford medical care and any other expenses that come after a diagnosis.
We’re standing by to help you and your family. Get a free case review right now to learn more.
FAQs About Bronchial Carcinoid Tumors
Can asbestos exposure cause bronchial carcinoid tumors?
At this time, it’s not known whether or not asbestos exposure causes bronchial carcinoid tumors.
Most cases of bronchial carcinoids aren’t linked to substances that cause other cancers, including asbestos and radon. However, smoking might possibly increase the risk of atypical lung carcinoids, according to the ACS.
Further, asbestos exposure can cause someone to develop more common types of lung cancer (like small cell lung cancer and non-small cell lung cancer).
Our team will provide any updates as to whether or not asbestos can cause bronchial carcinoids as more information becomes available.
Are bronchial carcinoids malignant?
Yes. Bronchial carcinoid tumors are malignant (cancerous). They develop when pulmonary neuroendocrine cells mutate into cancerous ones.
Not all tumors that form in the lungs are signs of cancer, though. For example, those with the MEN1 gene are at a higher risk of both bronchial carcinoid tumors and benign neoplasms (noncancerous growths) forming in their body.
Doctors can see if there are cancer tumors in your body with imaging scans and a biopsy.
Can lung carcinoid tumors be cured?
Possibly, yes. There’s no official cure for any type of cancer, but it may be possible to live the rest of your life cancer-free with the right treatments.
Undergoing surgery for bronchial carcinoid tumors offers the best chance of being cured. A surgery will allow doctors to remove as much of the cancer as possible. If the cancer hasn’t spread before the surgery, it may be possible to live for 15 years or more.
Other treatments like chemotherapy and radiation can also be used to treat lung carcinoids and help you live longer or cure you.
At what age can you develop a bronchial carcinoid tumor?
You can develop a bronchial carcinoid tumor at any age. That said, the average age of patients diagnosed with bronchial carcinoids is 45 years.
Make sure to see a doctor if you have possible symptoms of bronchial carcinoid tumors, no matter your age. Catching and treating the cancer before it spreads may allow you to live for years or even decades.
How long can you live with a bronchial carcinoid tumor?
It’s possible to live for decades with a bronchial carcinoid tumor. In fact, over 75% of patients with typical carcinoid tumors live for 15 years after getting surgery.
You may have more or less time to live depending on how aggressive your cancer is, how well your body responds to treatment, your overall health, and other factors.
Your lung cancer care team can determine how long you can expect to live with a bronchial carcinoid tumor. Keep in mind that you may even outlive the prognosis that your health care team gives.