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Gastrointestinal Carcinoid Tumors Treatment (PDQ®): Treatment - Patient Information [NCI] - General Information About Gastrointestinal Carcinoid Tumors

A gastrointestinal carcinoid tumor is cancer that forms in the lining of the gastrointestinal tract.

The gastrointestinal (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:

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

Gastrointestinal carcinoid tumors form in the lining of the gastrointestinal tract, most often in the appendix, small intestine, or 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. Sometimes more than one tumor will form.

See the following PDQ summaries for more information related to GI and other types of carcinoid tumors:

  • Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer Treatment.
  • Pancreatic Neuroendocrine Tumors (Islet Cell Tumors) Treatment.
  • Rectal Cancer Treatment.
  • Small Intestine Cancer Treatment.
  • Unusual Cancers of Childhood

Health history can affect the risk of gastrointestinal carcinoid tumors.

Anything that increases a person's chance of developing a disease is called a risk factor. Having a risk factor does not mean that you will get cancer; not having risk factors doesn't mean that you will not get cancer. Talk to your doctor if you think you may be at risk.

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.

Some gastrointestinal carcinoid tumors have no symptoms in the early stages.

The growth of the tumor and/or the hormones the tumor makes may cause symptoms . Some tumors, especially tumors of the stomach or appendix, may not cause symptoms. Carcinoid tumors are often found during tests or treatments for other conditions.

Carcinoid tumors in the small intestine (duodenum, jejunum, and ileum), colon, and rectum sometimes cause symptoms as they grow or because of the hormones they make. Other conditions may cause the same symptoms. Check with your doctor if you have any of the following problems:


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.
Jejunum and ileum

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.

Symptoms of GI carcinoid tumors in the colon may include the following:

  • Abdominal pain.
  • Weight loss for no known reason.

Symptoms of GI carcinoid tumors in the rectum may include the following:

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

WebMD Public Information from the National Cancer Institute

Last Updated: February 25, 2014
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.
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