Gastrointestinal Carcinoid Cancer Treatment Options

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What Is Gastrointestinal Carcinoid Cancer?

A gastrointestinal (GI) carcinoid cancer is a tumor that forms in the lining of the GI tract. The GI tract is part of the body's digestive system. It helps to digest food, takes nutrients (vitamins, minerals, carbohydrates, fats, proteins, and water) from food to be used by the body and helps pass waste material out of the body.

The GI tract is made up of these and other organs:

  • Stomach
  • Small intestine (duodenum, jejunum, and ileum)
  • Colon
  • Rectum

Gastrointestinal carcinoid tumors form from a certain type of neuroendocrine cell (a type of cell that is like a nerve cell and a hormone -making cell). These cells are scattered throughout the chest and abdomen but most are found in the GI tract. Neuroendocrine cells make hormones that help control digestive juices and the muscles used in moving food through the stomach and intestines. A GI carcinoid tumor may also make hormones and release them into the body. GI carcinoid tumors are rare and most grow very slowly. Most of them occur in the appendix, small intestine, and rectum. 

Causes of GI Carcinoid Tumors

Health history can affect the risk of tumors associated with carcinoid cancer GI.

Risk of Developing GI Carcinoid Cancer

Risk factors for GI carcinoid tumors include the following:

  • Having a family history of multiple endocrine neoplasia type 1 (MEN1) syndrome or neurofibromatosis type 1 (NF1) syndrome
  • Having certain conditions that affect the stomach's ability to make stomach acid, such as atrophic gastritis, pernicious anemia, or Zollinger-Ellison syndrome.

GI Carcinoid Cancer Symptoms

Signs and symptoms of GI carcinoid tumors in the duodenum (first part of the small intestine, that connects to the stomach) may include the following:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Constipation
  • Diarrhea
  • Change in stool color
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Jaundice (yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes)
  • Heartburn

Signs and symptoms of GI carcinoid tumors in the jejunum (middle part of the small intestine) and ileum (last part of the small intestine, that connects to the colon) may include the following:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Weight loss for no known reason
  • Feeling very tired
  • Feeling bloated
  • Diarrhea
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting

Signs and symptoms of GI carcinoid tumors in the colon may include the following:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Weight loss for no known reason

Signs and symptoms of GI carcinoid tumors in the rectum may include the following:

  • Blood in the stool
  • Pain in the rectum
  • Constipation

Diagnosing GI Carcinoid Cancer

The following tests and procedures may be used:

  • Physical exam and history
  • Blood chemistry studies
  • Tumor marker test
  • Twenty-four-hour urine test
  • MIBG scan
  • CT scan (CAT scan)
  • MRI (magnetic resonance imaging)
  • PET scan (positron emission tomography scan)
  • Endoscopic ultrasound (EUS)
  • Upper endoscopy
  • Colonoscopy
  • Capsule endoscopy
  • Biopsy

GI Carcinoid Cancer Treatment

Treatment is based on whether the tumor:

  • Can be completely removed by surgery
  • Has spread to other parts of the body
  • Has come back after treatment. The tumor may come back in the stomach or intestines or in other parts of the body
  • Has not gotten better with treatment

Treatment of gastrointestinal (GI) carcinoid tumors in the stomach may include the following:

  • Endoscopic surgery (resection) for small tumors
  • Surgery (resection) to remove part or all of the stomach. Nearby lymph nodes for larger tumors, tumors that grow deep into the stomach wall, or tumors that are growing and spreading quickly may also be removed

For patients with GI carcinoid tumors in the stomach and MEN1 syndrome, treatment may also include:

  • Surgery to remove tumors in the duodenum (first part of the small intestine, that connects to the stomach)
  • Hormone therapy

Four types of standard treatment are used:

  • Surgery
    • Endoscopic resection
    • Local excision
    • Resection
    • Cryosurgery
    • Radiofrequency ablation
    • Liver transplant
    • Hepatic artery embolization
  • Radiation therapy
  • Chemotherapy
  • Hormone therapy

Treatment of carcinoid syndrome may include the following:

  • Hormone therapy with a somatostatin analogue stops extra hormones from being made. Carcinoid syndrome is treated with octreotide or lanreotide to lessen flushing and diarrhea. Octreotide and lanreotide may also help slow tumor growth.
  • Interferon therapy stimulates the body’s immune system to work better and lessens flushing and diarrhea. Interferon may also help slow tumor growth.
  • Taking medicine for diarrhea
  • Taking medicine for skin rashes
  • Taking medicine to breathe easier
  • Taking medicine before having anesthesia for a medical procedure


Content was created using EBSCO’s Health Library. Edits to original content made by Rector and Visitors of the University of Virginia. This information is not a substitute for professional medical advice.