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Ann Surg. 2000 Oct;232(4):549-56.

Gastrointestinal carcinoids: characterization by site of origin and hormone production.

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  • 1Department of Surgery, Duke University Medical Center, Durham, North Carolina 27710, USA.



To describe a large series of patients with carcinoid tumors in terms of presenting symptoms, hormonal data, stage at diagnosis, pathologic features, and survival.


Published series have described significant prognostic features of carcinoid tumors as site of origin, age, sex, stage at diagnosis, presence of high hormone levels, and increased T stage. Of these, stage at diagnosis and T stage seem to emerge most often as independent predictors of survival in multivariate analyses. Of carcinoid tumors, those arising from a midgut location have higher levels of serotonin and serotonin breakdown products, as well as more frequent metastatic disease at presentation, than those arising from either foregut or hindgut locations.


A prospective database of carcinoid patients seen at Duke University Medical Center was kept from 1970 to the present. Retrospective medical record review was performed on this database to record presenting symptoms, hormonal data, pathologic features, and survival. Statistical methods included analysis of variance, Kaplan-Meier analysis, and Mantel-Cox proportional hazard survival analysis, with P <.05 considered significant for all tests.


Carcinoids arising in different locations had different presentations: rectal carcinoids presented significantly more often with gastrointestinal bleeding, and midgut carcinoids presented significantly more often with flushing, diarrhea, and the carcinoid syndrome. Patients with midgut tumors had significantly higher levels of serotonin and serotonin breakdown products, corresponding to higher metastatic tumor burdens. Although age, stage, region of origin, and urinary level of 5-hydroxyindoleacetic acid predicted survival by univariate analysis, only the latter three were independent predictors of survival by multivariate analysis. Of the patients with metastatic disease at diagnosis, those with midgut tumors had better survival than those with foregut or hindgut tumors.


Although region of origin is certainly an important factor in determination of prognosis, stage of disease at presentation is more predictive of survival. Pancreatic and midgut carcinoids are metastatic at diagnosis more often than those arising in other locations, leading to a worse overall prognosis. Among patients with distant metastases, patients with midgut primary tumors have improved survival despite increased hormone production compared with patients with tumors arising in other primary sites.

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