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Carcinoid Tumors

A rare and slow-growing form of cancer, carcinoid tumors may develop anywhere in the body where neuroendocrine (hormone-producing) cells exist. Roughly 75% of carcinoids arise in the gastrointestinal (GI) tract, particularly the small intestine. Another 24% occur in the lung and the remaining 1% occur everywhere else.

Since carcinoid tumors often exist for years without yielding symptoms, early diagnosis is difficult. The tumors frequently are not discovered until they become large enough to cause discomfort, but they can be found during an exam when the doctor is looking for something unrelated, or during a surgery for another digestive system condition.

Although accurate statistics for carcinoid tumors are not readily available, it is estimated that roughly two out of every 100,000 people develop carcinoid tumors.

Risk Factors

Because the cause of carcinoid tumors is still not well understood at this time, there is no way to prevent carcinoid tumors. People who have a family history of the rare familial syndrome, multiple endocrine neoplasia 1 (MEN1), may have a slightly higher risk of developing carcinoid tumor. Smoking may also increase the risk, so by not starting or quitting smoking, your risk may be reduced


Diagnosing carcinoid tumors is difficult because symptoms often do not appear until years later. And even after symptoms of advanced tumors such as diarrhea, skin flushing and asthma-like wheezing become evident, misdiagnosis is common.

Identifying carcinoids early in their development sometimes occurs incidentally during routine medical examinations such as colonoscopies and physicals or during surgeries such as appendectomies, since the appendix can be an origination site for carcinoids. Although a CT scan may detect carcinoid tumors, it is not an effective screening method to reveal them early in their development.


Several factors are considered by doctors treating patients who have been diagnosed with a carcinoid tumor. Tumor size and metastasis (spread) are among the many factors weighed.

Surgery is often the best option for small tumors that have not spread. Chemotherapy and conventional radiation therapy may be employed to shrink tumors, although the effectiveness of each is limited. Other treatment methods, including internal radiation therapy and biologic therapy, are either being tested or planned for study in clinical trials.

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