Carotid Body Tumors

Overview

What is a carotid body tumor?

A carotid body tumor is a mass that grows in the blood vessels near the large arteries in either side of your neck (carotid arteries). These arteries carry blood from your heart to your head and brain.

A carotid body tumor is also called a carotid body paraganglioma or a carotid body chemodectoma.

Are carotid body tumors benign?

Most carotid body tumors are benign (not cancer). Some studies estimate that less than 10% of carotid body tumors are malignant (cancerous).

Who can get carotid body tumors?

Anyone can get a carotid body tumor. The condition seems to be more common in women and people assigned female at birth than men and people assigned male at birth, and usually happens in people older than 20.

How rare are carotid body tumors?

Carotid body tumors are rare, occurring in about 1 in 30,000 people.

How will a carotid body tumor affect me?

Carotid body tumors are often painless, but your healthcare provider may want to remove the tumor because it can become large and affect the blood vessels in your neck or cause other symptoms.

Symptoms and Causes

What are the symptoms of a carotid body tumor?

A carotid body tumor may not cause any symptoms, but as the mass grows, it may press on nearby nerves and blood vessels. You might feel a lump on your neck. Other carotid body tumor symptoms can include:

What causes carotid body tumors?

Researchers don’t know exactly why carotid body tumors happen, but they’re more common in people with oxygen deprivation (hypoxia). About 90% of cases happen sporadically, meaning it can affect anyone regardless of family history. About 10% of cases are familial, meaning there’s a genetic component and it can run in families.

Diagnosis and Tests

How do healthcare providers diagnose carotid body tumors?

Your healthcare provider begins with a physical examination of your head and neck. If they find signs of a carotid body tumor, they may order additional tests to confirm the condition.

What tests do healthcare providers use to diagnose carotid body tumors?

Healthcare providers use imaging tests to diagnose carotid body tumors, including:

Management and Treatment

How do healthcare providers treat carotid body tumors?

Your healthcare provider will talk with you about your symptoms. They may recommend that you have:

  • Surgery to remove the tumor.
  • Radiation therapy.
  • Transcatheter embolization to stop blood flow to the tumor, which you may have before surgery to help shrink the tumor.

When providers surgically remove large carotid body tumors, a hole may remain in your carotid artery. A surgeon may use a patch or graft to close the hole and restore your artery during the surgery.

Are there complications of carotid body tumor treatment?

Many people who have treatment for a carotid body tumor don’t have complications. But carotid body tumor treatment can involve many blood vessels. After treatment, some people may have:

  • Difficulty swallowing (dysphagia).
  • Injury to their cranial nerves.
  • Problems with healing at the surgical incision site.
  • Stroke.

How soon will I feel better after carotid body tumor treatment?

Recovery time after surgery for a carotid body tumor is typically three to four weeks. Follow your healthcare provider’s instructions for incision care. Talk to your provider about how to take care of yourself as you recover.

Prevention

How can I reduce my risk of a carotid body tumor?

There’s no way to prevent or reduce your risk of carotid body tumor. If you have a biological family history of carotid body tumors, talk with your healthcare provider about your risk.

Outlook / Prognosis

What can I expect if I have a carotid body tumor?

Your healthcare provider will talk with you about your symptoms and recommend treatment based on the tumor’s size. If your provider recommends observing the tumor (watchful waiting), let them know right away if you develop new symptoms.

Is a carotid body tumor curable?

If you have surgery to remove a carotid body tumor, you typically don’t need further treatment.

Living With

When should I see my healthcare provider if I have a carotid body tumor?

Contact your healthcare provider right away if you notice any new symptoms. They’ll talk with you about treatment options that may be right for you.

A note from Cleveland Clinic

Carotid body tumors are growths in the blood vessels near the carotid arteries in your neck. These tumors are typically benign (noncancerous), but may need surgical removal if they grow large and affect nearby nerves and blood vessels. Your healthcare provider can advise you about best treatment options.

Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 08/16/2022.

References

  • Demir T, Uyar I, Demir HB, et al. Five-year Follow-up of a Patient With Bilateral Carotid Body Tumors After Unilateral Surgical Resection. (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4188141/) Am J Case Rep. 2014;15:426-430. Published 2014 Oct 3. Accessed 8/16/2022.
  • Gad A, Sayed A, Elwan H, et al. Carotid Body Tumors: A Review of 25 Years Experience in Diagnosis and Management of 56 Tumors. (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4180692/) Ann Vasc Dis. 2014;7(3):292-299. Accessed 8/16/2022.
  • Gaillard F, Baba Y. Carotid body tumor. (https://radiopaedia.org/articles/carotid-body-tumour?lang=us) Reference article, Radiopaedia.org. Accessed 8/16/2022.
  • Wieneke JA, Smith A. Paraganglioma: Carotid Body Tumor. (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2791477/) Head Neck Pathol. 2009;3(4):303-306. Accessed 8/16/2022.

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