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An overview of gastrointestinal carcinoid tumor

  • Posted on- Aug 24, 2015
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The GI tract (gastrointestinal) is an important part of the body's digestive system. It helps to digest food, consume nutrients from different foods to be used by body and excrete waste material out of the body. The GI tract is composed of stomach, small intestine, colon and rectum.

Gastrointestinal carcinoid tumors develop from a specific kind of neuroendocrine cell (a type of cell that is similar to a nerve cell and a hormone making cell). These cells are present in the chest and abdomen, but mostly found in the GI tract. Neuroendocrine cells produce hormones that manage 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. This type of tumor is rare and has a slow growth. Gastrointestinal carcinoid tumors are commonly seen in the small intestine, rectum, and appendix. More than one tumor can form.

Symptoms associated with gastrointestinal carcinoid tumor

The symptoms a person develops from a GI carcinoid tumor often depend on the location:
  1. The Appendix- People with tumors in their appendix often have no symptoms. It is generally when they have their appendix removed during a surgery for some other medical problem. Sometimes, the tumor blocks the opening between the appendix and the rest of the intestine and causes appendicitis. This leads to symptoms like nausea, vomiting, and abdominal pain.
  2. The small intestine or colon- If the tumor is present in the small intestine, it can cause the intestines to curve and be blocked for a while. This may lead to cramps, belly pain, weight loss, fatigue, bloating, diarrhea, or nausea and vomiting, which might come and go. This can continue without noticing for years before the carcinoid tumor is identified. A tumor needs to be large enough to completely block the intestine. When that happens, patients experience severe belly pain, nausea and vomiting.
  3. The Rectum- Rectal carcinoid tumors are often discovered during routine examination, even though they can cause pain and bleeding from the rectum and constipation.
  4. The Stomach- Carcinoid tumors that develop in the stomach usually do not cause symptoms. They are often discovered while performing an endoscopy looking for other things. Some can cause carcinoid syndrome.

Diagnosis of gastrointestinal carcinoid tumor

  • Your medical history will be examined by your doctor where he will ask questions about your general health, lifestyle habits, symptoms, and risk factors. He will look at symptoms of the carcinoid syndrome, as well as symptoms that might be caused by a tumor in the stomach, intestines, or rectum.
  • Barium X-ray uses a barium-containing solution that coats the lining of the esophagus, stomach, and intestines. The coating of barium helps show irregularities of the lining of these organs. This type of study is often useful in diagnosing some GI carcinoid tumors. However, it fails to detect small intestine carcinoids.
  • A CT scan can help tell if the cancer has spread into your lymph nodes or other organs such as your liver. It uses x-rays to make detailed cross-sectional images of your body.
  • MRI scans use radio waves and strong magnets instead of x-rays to create detailed images of parts of the body. Sometimes MRI is used to look at blood vessels in the liver.
  • Endoscopy tests use an endoscope with a video camera on the end. The camera is connected to a monitor, which lets the doctor see any abnormal areas in the lining of the digestive organs clearly.
  • Proctoscopy can be used to look for a rectal tumor. This test uses a shorter, rigid, hollow tube (a proctoscope), which may have a light on the end of it.

Available treatments for gastrointestinal carcinoid tumor

Once gastrointestinal carcinoid tumor is identified, your doctor will discuss your treatment options. A cancer care team will be setup comprising of a surgeon, radiation oncologist, medical oncologist, gastroenterologist and endocrinologist. The main types of treatment for GI carcinoid tumors include:
  • Surgery
  • Chemotherapy
  • Radiation Therapy

In some cases, doctors may recommend combining more than one of these treatments. It’s important to discuss all of your treatment options, including their aim and possible side effects, with your doctor to help choose the best option. Some of the factors that may help include:
  • The tumor size and location
  • Whether it has spread to lymph nodes, liver, bones, or other organs
  • Whether you have any other serious medical conditions
  • Whether the tumor is causing troublesome symptoms