• Neuroendocrine carcinoid tumors grow in the hormone-producing cells lining the intestines, pancreas, testes, ovaries or lungs. Relatively rare, they are usually small and grow slowly. They can be benign (noncancerous) or malignant (cancerous) and sometimes make too much of hormone-like chemicals.

    Neuroendocrine Cells

    Neuroendocrine cells act like both nerve cells and endocrine cells that make hormones. They make chemical signals that control certain body functions. In the digestive system, they control digestive juices and food movement. The digestive tract is a large organ system and has more neuroendocrine cells than any other organ or organ system, thus most neuroendocrine tumors are found here.

    Carcinoid Tumors

    A tumor is described as carcinoid if it is very to moderately well differentiated. This means that when examined under a microscope, it doesn't look extremely abnormal. Poorly differentiated tumors tend to be more aggressive. Until 2000, most abnormal growths of neuroendocrine cells were called carcinoids. In 2000, the World Health Organization began dividing these tumors into neuroendocrine tumors and neuroendocrine cancers. The tumors don't look like cancer, but might spread to other parts of the body. The cancers are abnormal growths of neuroendocrine cells that can spread to other parts of the body. Sometimes a tumor growth and a cancer growth look so much a like that it isn't possible to tell the difference until the cancer spreads.

    Secreting versus Nonsecreting Tumors

    These terms describe whether the tumor produces hormone-like chemicals or not. If a tumor does secrete hormones, it may not cause any signs. In the digestive tract, hormones may be released into a blood vessel and processed by the liver.

    Carcinoid Syndrome

    If a neuroendocrine tumor is large enough or has spread and releases high amounts of hormones, it can cause carcinoid syndrome. This is a set of symptoms common to people with neuroendocrine tumors and include flushing of the skin, cramping, explosive diarrhea, a racing heart and wheezing of the breath. Depending on where the neuroendocrine carcinoid tumor is located and what hormones it produces, it may cause different syndromes with different sets of symptoms.

    Carcinoid Crisis

    If a neuroendocrine carcinoid tumor causes extreme symptoms, it is called a carcinoid crisis. Immediate medical attention in an emergency room is needed.


    Carcinoid Cancer Foundation

    American Cancer Society: What Is a Gastrointestinal Carcinoid Tumor?

    Johns Hopkins Medicine Liver Tumor Center: Neuroendocrine/Carcinoid Tumors that have Spread to the Liver

    More Information:

    Carcinoid NeuroEndocrine Tumour Society Canada: What is neuroendocrine cancer?

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