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Int J Pancreatol. 1998 Apr;23(2):153-64.

Carcinoid tumors of the pancreas. Status report based on two cases and review of the world's literature.

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Department of Surgery, Toledo Hospital, OH, USA.



The diagnosis of a pancreatic carcinoid should be based on the measurement of serotonin in serum or its demonstration in the tumor and/or by the measurement of its derivative (5-HIAA) in urine. Carcinoid of the pancreas is a rare but definite entity; usually having metastasized by the time of diagnosis. The term "serotonin-producing tumor of the pancreas" has been suggested as an alternative designation for "pancreatic carcinoid."


The literature on carcinoid tumors of the pancreas is confusing because much of it preceded the development of the more specific immunological, chemical and staining techniques currently available.


43 case reports were collected from the world's literature, based on a demonstrable pancreatic neuroendocrine tumor plus a positive finding of at least one of the following without another dominant hormone being demonstrated: elevation of 5-Hydroxytryptamine (5-HT) (serotonin) in the serum or detected in tumor tissue, and/or elevation of 5-Hydroxyindole acetic acid (5-HIAA) in the urine. In addition to these two hormone-specific assays, information was collected on the silver-staining properties of the tumor; properties which have traditionally been associated with carcinoid tumors. Positive silver staining in tumor cells (argyrophilic and/or argentaffin reaction) is strongly indicative of the carcinoid tumor but the findings are less specific than the hormone assays and immunohistologic stains.


In this review of 43 cases, including two current ones, the pancreatic carcinoid tumor has the following important features: 1. It is a rare tumor that is usually diagnosed late when the tumor is large and has metastasized. Thirty-eight (88.4%) have been malignant. They are, therefore, associated with a high incidence of the "carcinoid syndrome." 2. To date, prognosis in therapy is poor, based on delayed diagnosis, a resultant low incidence of resectability, and an uncertain duration of survival after resection. 3. Pancreatic carcinoid tumors remain difficult to differentiate from other endocrine tumors. The measurement of urinary 5-HIAA excretion or the demonstration of elevated serotonin level in the tumor or in serum is essential to its distinction. Silver staining of the tumor, although of historic importance, has been superceded by the hormone-specific studies. 4. To distinguish it from other endocrine tumors of the pancreas, the terms "pancreatic serotoninoma" or "serotonin-producing tumor of the pancreas" have been suggested as possible alternatives. Its growth characteristics may be related more to its cell of origin than to its extent of hormone secretion. Not all of the tumors result in recognizable hyperserotoninemia.

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