Gastrointestinal Carcinoid Tumors




Gastrointestinal carcinoid tumors are cancers in which malignant cells are found in certain hormone-making cells of the gastrointestinal (digestive) system.



A diagnosis of gastrointestinal carcinoid tumors is usually made by using several different approaches at The Cancer Center:

  • blood tests
  • urine tests
  • biopsy
  • CT scan
  • MRI
  • chest X-ray
  • ultrasound
  • octreotide scan



Risk factors for gastrointestinal carcinoid tumors include a family history of multiple endocrine neoplasia type I (MEN1), African-American heritage, and a history of stomach diseases (if the tumor is in the stomach). The average age of a patient with gastrointestinal carcinoid tumors of the appendix is 40; of the stomach, small intestine, colon, and rectum, the average age is 55 to 65.

The Cancer Center features many unique and innovative services to treat gastrointestinal carcinoid tumors:

  • board-certified gastroenterologist, surgical oncologist who specialize in gastrointestinal cancers, medical oncologists and radiation oncologists who are skilled at treating gastrointestinal carcinoid tumors
  • complex surgical procedures
  • sophisticated diagnostic testing and imaging studies
  • clinical trials to investigate new medications and treatment methods
  • a full range of support services



In many cases, gastrointestinal carcinoid tumors do not produce any signs initially. In other situations, these tumors will make too much of certain hormones, which can cause symptoms. The following symptoms may be noticed:

  • pain in the abdomen
  • flushing and swelling of the skin of the face and neck
  • wheezing
  • diarrhea
  • symptoms of heart failure, including breathlessness

The tumors may produce discomfort or bloating and occasionally, as they enlarge, cause dysfunctions of the gastrointestinal tract emanating from the site of the tumor.



The choice of treatment for a gastrointestinal carcinoid tumor is made depending on where the tumor started and whether the cancer is just in the gastrointestinal system or if it has spread to other sites in the body.


If the cancer started in the appendix, treatment will most likely involve surgery to remove the appendix. This procedure may be combined with removal of part of the colon and lymph nodes. If the cancer started in the small intestine, treatment may involve surgery to remove part of the bowel and some lymph nodes. If the cancer started in the stomach, pancreas, or colon, treatment may involve surgery to remove the organ affected by the cancer and possibly other nearby organs. If the cancer started in the rectum, treatment will probably be surgery to remove the cancer, part of the rectum, or removal of part of the anus and part of the rectum. All of these surgeries can be complicated and should be performed by a surgical oncologist who is highly experienced in these procedures. There are several surgical oncologists on staff at The Cancer Center who specialize in the surgical treatment of gastrointestinal cancers, such as gastrointestinal carcinoid tumors.

If the cancer has spread, treatment may include one of the following treatments:

  • cryoablation to freeze and kill cancer cells
  • surgery to relieve painful symptoms
  • radiofrequency ablation using radio waves and heat energy to destroy the tumor
  • radiation therapy and/or chemotherapy
  • drug therapy to treat symptoms of excess hormone production

Radiation Therapy

If the cancer has spread beyond the original site of the gastrointestinal carcinoid tumor, radiation therapy may be used to relieve symptoms.


If the cancer has spread beyond the original site of the gastrointestinal carcinoid tumor, chemotherapy may be used.