Gastrointestinal (GI) carcinoids are ill-understood, enigmatic malignancies, which, although slow growing compared with adenocarcinomas, can behave aggressively. Carcinoids are classified based on organ site and cell of origin and occur most frequently in the GI (67%) where they are most common in small intestine (25%), appendix (12%), and rectum (14%). Local manifestations - mass, bleeding, obstruction, or perforation - reflect invasion or tumor-induced fibrosis and often result in incidental detection at emergency surgery. Symptoms are protean (flushing, sweating, diarrhea, bronchospasm), usually misdiagnosed, and reflect secretion of diverse amines and peptides. Biochemical diagnosis is established by elevation of plasma chromogranin A (CgA), serotonin, or urinary 5-hydroxyindoleacetic acid (5-HIAA), while topographic localization is by Octreoscan, computerized axial tomography (CAT) scan, or endoscopy/ultrasound. Histological identification is confirmed by CgA and synaptophysin immunohistochemistry. Primary therapy is surgical excision to avert local manifestations and decrease hormone secretion. Hepatic metastases may be amenable to cytoreduction, radiofrequency ablation, embolization alone, or with cytotoxics. Hepatic transplantation may rarely be beneficial. Chemotherapy and radiotherapy have minimal efficacy and substantially decrease quality of life. Intravenously administered receptor-targeted radiolabeled somatostatin analogs are of use in disseminated disease. Local endoscopic excision for gastric (type I and II) and rectal carcinoids may be adequate. Somatostatin analogues provide the most effective symptomatic therapy, although interferon has some utility. Overall 5-year survival for carcinoids of the appendix is 98%, gastric (types I/II) is 81%, rectum is 87%, small intestinal is 60%, colonic carcinoids is 62%, and gastric type III/IV is 33%. © 2005 by the American Gastroenterological Association.
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