Causes and Symptoms of Gastrointestinal Carcinoid Tumors


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Gastrointestinal carcinoid tumors are a specific type of cancer that affects the GI tract of the patient. They are one of the most common forms of neuroendocrine tumors and are generally found in the small intestine and appendix, as well as rectum and parts of the large intestine. Gastrointestinal carcinoid tumors are made of neuroendocrine cells, which help to control how the body breaks down food. However, when they are in a tumor, they can lead to overproduction of hormones and cause problems like flushing, diarrhea, and heart disease.

Causes and Symptoms of Gastrointestinal Carcinoid Tumors

There is not much evidence on what causes the condition, but researchers have found that gastrointestinal carcinoid tumors grow very slowly and may not show any signs of the condition for a long time. It is also seen that women are more prone to get gastrointestinal carcinoid tumors than men are, and it happens due to a glitch in the genes of cells in the GI tract. The condition is also more common in older people and those with conditions that hinder the production of acid in the stomach like Zollinger-Ellison syndrome.

There may not be any early signs of gastrointestinal carcinoid tumors, but normal imaging tests can detect it easily. In later stages, patients with the condition may experience stomach ache, belly pain, diarrhea, tiredness, exhaustion, pain or bleeding in the rectum, troubles in defecating, redness or warm feeling in the neck and face, upset stomach, nausea, vomiting, and weight loss for no reason.

Note that as gastrointestinal carcinoid tumors inhibit hormone production, the condition may lead to other complications such as carcinoid syndrome as well, which can cause many symptoms like constant diarrhea, difficulty breathing skin flushing, and fast heartbeat. In most cases, a biopsy is required to diagnose the condition and confirm that the symptoms are caused by gastrointestinal carcinoid tumors.

Treatment of the condition is often based on the size of the gastrointestinal carcinoid tumors as well as their location in the GI tract. Besides, the age, overall health, and the kind of hormones that the tumor is making will also play a crucial role in determining the treatment course. In most cases, surgery is recommended to remove the tumor alongside the nearby areas that are affected by the cancer cells.

Radiation therapy and hormone therapy may also be recommended to patients with gastrointestinal carcinoid tumors and kill cancer cells, especially if they have spread to other parts of the body. Chemotherapy is rarely used to treat this type of cancer, yet some doctors may suggest it depending upon other factors like age, health, and underlying conditions of the patient.

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    About the Author

    Dr. Ghassan M. Al-Jazayrly, MD

    A graduate of University of Aleppo Faculty of Medicine, Dr. Al-Jazayrly or, as he is colloquially known: Dr. AJ, is an oncologist and hematologist of a Complete Care Community Health Center (CCCHC) with more than 36 years of experience. In recent years, he’s been involved with a non profit organization known as Every Woman Counts (EWC) which provides free breast and cervical cancer screening and diagnostic services to California’s underserved populations in order to eliminate health disparities for low-income individuals.

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