Gastrointestinal Carcinoid Tumors

Gastrointestinal carcinoid tumors start from cells of the diffuse neuroendocrine system (scattered throughout the GI system) of cells that help control the release of digestive juices, the speed of food movement through the digestive system, and the growth of other types of GI cells. The most common location of carcinoid tumors is in the appendix and small intestine, with other sites including the rectum, colon, and stomach. In the pancreas, these cancers are known as islet cell tumors. According to the American Cancer Society, there are thought to be 11,000 to 12,000 neuroendocrine tumors, with two out of every three of these occurring in the gastrointestinal system.

Diagnosis is made with blood and urine tests, physical exam and a medical history.

Our patients with gastrointestinal carcinoid tumors are treated at our Gastrointestinal Cancer Unit.

You can also review the tabs at top of this page for information on gastrointestinal carcinoid tumor symptoms, risks, and treatment.


In its early stages, a gastrointestinal carcinoid tumor has no signs. If the tumor has spread to the liver, however, symptoms may include:

  • Redness
  • Feeling of warmth in the face and neck
  • Diarrhea
  • Shortness of breath or wheezing
  • Fatigue
  • Swelling of the feet and ankles
  • Pain in the abdomen
  • Feeling of fullness


  • Family history of multiple endocrine neoplasia type 1 syndrome
  • Certain conditions that affect the stomach’s ability to produce stomach acid
  • Smoking

Treatment Options

Because most gastrointestinal carcinoid tumors are slow-growing, it is important to discuss treatment options with your physician, including whether to do anything at this time if the tumor is not causing bothersome symptoms.  Depending upon the tumor size and location (including whether it has spread), treatment options may include surgical removal, such as an appendectomy if the surgery is confined to the appendix, or cytoreduction (debulking) surgery, which removes as much of the cancer as possible.  A unique method to apply chemotherapy directly to the abdominal cavity is provided by Dr. Andrew Lowy.  Called heated intraperitoneal chemotherapy (HIPEC), the procedure involves circulation of heated cancer drugs throughout the abdominal cavity, then their removal. 

Carcinoid tumors that have spread to the liver can be treated with chemotherapy followed by resection or transplantation by our team of liver surgeons.