What is a carotid body tumor?
A carotid body tumor (also called a chemodectoma or paraganglioma) is a growth on the side of your neck in the area where the carotid artery splits off into smaller blood vessels that carry blood to your brain. You have two carotid arteries ─ one on each side of your neck ─ that supply blood to the front of the brain, which is responsible for thinking, speech, personality, and sensory and motor functions.
Symptoms and Causes
Many times, a carotid body tumor does not cause symptoms and is found by your doctor during an exam. You may be able to feel the tumor, but it is not painful.
If the tumor becomes large, it can press on the nerves, blood vessels or organs around it. This may cause throat pain, hoarseness, a numb tongue or make it hard to swallow.
Diagnosis and Tests
Your doctor will closely examine your head and neck to check for signs of a carotid body tumor. You may need tests, such as:
- Ultrasound – a test that uses a special tool (transducer/wand) that sends sound waves inside your body to create pictures.
- Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) – a test that uses a large magnet and radio waves to create detailed pictures of the inside of your body.
- Computed Tomography (CT scan) – a special type of X-ray.
- Magnetic Resonance Angiography (MRA) – an MRI that checks for problems with your blood vessels.
Management and Treatment
Carotid body tumors are not usually cancerous. But, they can grow quickly and become large. Because of this, the best treatment is often surgery to remove the tumor. In rare cases, radiation therapy is used.
What surgical treatments are available for carotid body tumors?
Cleveland Clinic vascular surgeons work closely with ear, nose and throat (otolaryngology) surgeons to offer patients a multidisciplinary approach to carotid body tumor treatment. Your healthcare team will create the best plan of care for you and give you detailed information about your procedure and recovery.
In general, a vascular surgeon will perform a transcatheter embolization and a bypass graft, if needed.
A transcatheter embolization is a procedure that reduces blood supply to the tumor. It is done two or three days before surgery. A catheter will be guided through your groin artery into the blood vessels that feed blood to the tumor. Then, medication and/or a blocking device, such as foam, plastic, metal coil, or glue is used to stop the blood flow to the tumor.
Surgical Removal (Resection)
Most times (60% -70%), the tumor can be removed without the need to repair or remove part of the carotid artery. If the artery does need to be repaired, it may be fixed with a simple suture repair. Sometimes, a more complicated repair is needed, such as creating a patch over a hole made during the tumor removal or replacing a section of the artery with a bypass graft (using another blood vessel to create a new pathway for the blood to flow).
Risks of Treatment
Treatment for carotid body tumors is generally very safe with good outcomes. However, all surgery involves risks. One possible complication is stroke, but this is rare and happens in less than 2% of carotid body tumor removals. The risk is highest for patients who have large tumors and need to have vascular repair or replacement.
If the tumor affects the nerves near the carotid artery, such as the vagus nerve, facial nerve or hypoglossal nerve that controls your tongue, part of the nerve may need to be removed. This can cause problems with the affected nerve(s). The risk of nerve problems is higher if the tumor is large, but the overall risk of permanent nerve damage is less than 5%.
If the tumor is cancerous, there is a less than 5% chance it will spread to other areas of your body (metastatic disease).
The risk of having another carotid body tumor after surgery is 5% to 10%.
Cleveland Clinic surgeons take special precautions to decrease your risk of complications. Your surgeon will talk to you about these and other risks. Please make sure you understand why you need surgery, your risks, and ask your doctor any questions you have about your condition or treatment.
Choosing a Doctor
Doctors vary in quality due to differences in training and experience; hospitals differ in the number of services available. The more complex your medical problem, the greater these differences in quality become and the more they matter.
Clearly, the doctor and hospital that you choose for complex, specialized medical care will have a direct impact on how well you do. To help you make this choice, please review our Miller Family Heart, Vascular & Thoracic Institute Outcomes.
Cleveland Clinic Heart, Vascular & Thoracic Institute Vascular Medicine Specialists and Surgeons
Choosing a doctor for treatment of vascular disease depends on where you are in your diagnosis and treatment. The following Heart, Vascular & Thoracic Institute Sections and Departments treat patients with all types of vascular disease, including blood clotting disorders:
Department of Vascular Surgery: Surgery evaluation and management of vascular disease, including aorta, peripheral artery, and venous disease. Call Vascular Surgery Appointments, toll-free 800.223.2273, extension 44508 or request an appointment online.
You may also use Cleveland Clinic’s MyConsult service for an online second opinion consultation.
Why choose Cleveland Clinic for your care?
Our outcomes speak for themselves. Please review our facts and figures, and don’t hesitate to ask us any questions you have.
If you need more information, click, chat online with a nurse or call the Miller Family Heart, Vascular & Thoracic Institute Resource & Information Nurse at 216.445.9288 or toll-free at 866.289.6911. We would be happy to help you.
Becoming a Patient
Our webchats and video chats give patients and visitors another opportunity to ask questions and interact with our physicians.
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- American Stroke Association
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- Society for Vascular Surgery - Resources for Vascular Disease and Treatment
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