About Gastrointestinal Carcinoid Tumors

Gastrointestinal carcinoid tumors are characterized by malignancy (abnormal and uncontrollably dividing) in neuroendocrine cells of the digestive system. These cells are normally responsible for digestion and nutrient absorption by controlling food movement and release of digestive juices in the stomach and intestines.
In addition to uncontrolled growth and spread, gastrointestinal carcinoid tumors may also cause a condition called carcinoid syndrome by releasing harmful amounts of hormones into the bloodstream. Left untreated, carcinoid syndrome can lead to life-threatening dehydration (from severe nausea and diarrhea) and heart failure.
The majority of gastrointestinal carcinoid tumors are found in the small intestine, appendix and rectum, but they can appear in the stomach and colon as well.
Signs and Symptoms of Gastrointestinal Carcinoid Tumors
The symptoms caused by gastrointestinal carcinoid tumors depend on the digestive organ it appears on. These symptoms can include:
  • Stools that are bloody, abnormally colored or lighter/darker than usual
  • Changes in bowel movement patterns
  • Feeling discomfort, pain or fullness in the abdominal or rectal region
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Nausea
  • Heartburn
  • Fatigue and weakness
Additionally, 5 to 10 percent of carcinoid tumors release enough hormones to cause carcinoid syndrome, characterized by:
  • rapid or irregular heartbeat
  • severe diarrhea
  • wheezing and shortness of breath
  • flushing (redness or warmth) in the head and neck area
While many of these symptoms may be caused by other conditions, early gastrointestinal carcinoid tumor detection is crucial to successful treatment. If you or a loved one experiences any of the above symptoms, and especially those corresponding to carcinoid syndrome, please contact a doctor for further evaluation.
Risk Factors of Gastrointestinal Carcinoid Tumors
Risk factors associated with gastrointestinal carcinoid tumors include:
  • Diseases and Conditions:
    • Genetic Conditions: Inherited gene mutations that are passed from parents to children can significantly raise gastrointestinal carcinoid tumor risk. These include multiple endocrine neoplasia type 1 (MEN-1), neurofibromatosis type 1 (NF-1) and von Hippel Lindau disease (VHL)
    • Pernicious Anemia: Also known as Addison’s or Biermer’s anemia, this specific type of anemia (characterized by large, abnormal red blood cells) is linked to a higher gastrointestinal carcinoid tumor risk
    • Stomach Conditions: People with stomach conditions (particularly those affecting its ability to produce acid) are at a greater risk of developing carcinoid tumors in that organ
  • Ethnicity: African-Americans are at a greater risk of gastrointestinal carcinoid tumors, compared to non-Hispanic Caucasians
  • Gender: Gastrointestinal carcinoid tumors are slightly more common in women
  • Tobacco Use: Some studies link smoking to a higher risk of gastrointestinal carcinoid tumors
If you suspect that you or a loved one may have an elevated risk of gastrointestinal carcinoid tumors, please consult with a doctor on preventive and early detection measures that are available.
If you have been diagnosed with gastrointestinal carcinoid tumors or are looking for a second opinion consultation about your treatment, find out more about becoming a patient by calling 800-826-HOPE or filling out the Request a New Patient Appointment Online form.