Evaluation of whole blood serotonin and plasma and urine 5-hydroxyindole acetic acid in diagnosis of carcinoid disease

Ann Clin Biochem. 2002 Nov;39(Pt 6):577-82. doi: 10.1177/000456320203900605.


Background: Carcinoid disease is an uncommon disorder resulting from tumours of the enterochromaffin cells. Current biochemical investigation usually involves the measurement of 5-hydroxyindole-3-acetic acid (5-HIAA) in 24-h urine collections. Because of the problems associated with urine collections (i.e. inconvenience, accuracy of collection and requirement for preservatives) two alternative markers, fasting plasma 5-HIAA and whole blood serotonin (5-hydroxytryptamine), have been studied.

Methods and results: Whole blood serotonin concentration and plasma and urine 5-HIAA concentrations were measured by high-performance liquid chromatography in 31 patients suspected of having carcinoid and 26 known carcinoid patients. Receiver operator characteristic curve analysis of the data showed no statistical difference between the three markers (P>0.01) with regard to their discriminating function. However, fasting plasma 5-HIAA assay showed greater stability than whole blood serotonin assay and is more convenient for the patient than a 24-h urine collection. At a cut-off value of 118 nmol/L plasma 5-HIAA assay showed a sensitivity of 89%, a specificity of 97% and a test efficiency of 93%. Whole blood serotonin assay was further limited by its saturation in platelets at 40 nmol/10(9) platelets which made it less suitable for monitoring the treatment of carcinoid disease.

Conclusion: Fasting plasma 5-HIAA concentration provides a more convenient screening test for carcinoid and overcomes the problems associated with 24-h urine collections, without any loss of diagnostic precision.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Carcinoid Tumor / blood
  • Carcinoid Tumor / diagnosis*
  • Carcinoid Tumor / urine
  • Child
  • Chromatography, High Pressure Liquid
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Hydroxyindoleacetic Acid / blood*
  • Hydroxyindoleacetic Acid / urine*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Reproducibility of Results
  • Sensitivity and Specificity
  • Serotonin / blood*


  • Serotonin
  • Hydroxyindoleacetic Acid