Symptoms and Signs of Gastrointestinal Carcinoid Tumors

Medical Author:
Medically Reviewed on 4/15/2022

Doctor's Notes on Gastrointestinal Carcinoid Tumors

Gastrointestinal carcinoid tumors are abnormal masses of cells that form from neuroendocrine cells (a type of cell that is like a nerve cell and a hormone-making cell) located in the GI tract. The tumors are rare, most grow slowly, and some secrete GI hormones. Although some have no early symptoms, when symptoms do occur, they can be caused by the tumor and/or the GI hormones they secrete. Signs and symptoms may vary according to where the tumor is located and sometimes how much, if any, GI hormones they make.

The cause of GI carcinoid tumors is unknown; risk factors are a family history of neurofibromatosis type 1 syndrome, atrophic gastritis, pernicious anemia, or Zollinger-Ellison syndrome.

What Are the Treatments for Gastrointestinal Carcinoid Tumors?

The treatment of these tumors may involve one or more of the following options, used alone or in combination:

  • Surgery: to remove the carcinoid tumor entirely or to reduce its signs and symptoms by cutting out most of the tumor
  • Medications like octreotide to block hormones secreted by the tumor
  • Chemotherapy: used to kill remaining tumor cells
  • Targeted drug therapy: drugs used to attack specific areas only present in certain carcinoid tumor cells
  • PRRT (peptide receptor radionuclide therapy) binds to carcinoid cells and then kills cells with radiation that is part of the binding agent.

In addition, carcinoid tumors commonly spread to the liver and are then treated by surgery, arterial embolization and/or radiofrequency or cryoablation to kill carcinoid tumor cells. Your doctors can recommend a treatment plan that addresses your individual situation.

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Kasper, D.L., et al., eds. Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine, 19th Ed. United States: McGraw-Hill Education, 2015.