A 5-decade analysis of 13,715 carcinoid tumors

Cancer. 2003 Feb 15;97(4):934-59. doi: 10.1002/cncr.11105.


Background: Carcinoid tumors represent an unusual and complex disease spectrum with protean clinical manifestations. This compilation of several large United States-based databases comprising patients from 1950 to 1999 examines 13,715 carcinoid tumors and provides epidemiologic information regarding the natural history and evolution of the detection and diagnosis of this entity.

Methods: The authors evaluated 10,878 carcinoid tumors that were identified by the Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results (SEER) Program of the National Cancer Institute (NCI) from 1973 to 1999 in addition to 2837 carcinoid tumors that were registered previously by two earlier NCI programs. To the authors' knowledge, this represents the largest current epidemiology series addressing carcinoid tumors to date.

Results: Specific trends in incidence for carcinoid tumors of certain sites were identified. Among the most recently collected subset of data, sites that demonstrated the greatest incidence of carcinoids were the gastrointestinal tract (67.5%) and the bronchopulmonary system (25.3%). Within the gastrointestinal tract, most carcinoid tumors occurred in the small intestine (41.8%), rectum (27.4%), and stomach (8.7%). For all sites, age-adjusted incidence rates were highest in black males (4.48 per 100,000 population per year). Associated noncarcinoid tumors were frequent in conjunction with small intestinal (29.0%), gastric (20.5%), colonic (20.0%), and appendiceal (18.2%) carcinoids. The highest percentages of nonlocalized lesions were noted for cecal (81.5-83.2%) and pancreatic (71.9-81.3%) carcinoids, whereas the highest percentage of localized disease was found among rectal (81.7%), gastric (67.5%), and bronchopulmonary (65.4%) carcinoids. The best 5-year survival rates were recorded for patients with rectal (88.3%), bronchopulmonary (73.5%), and appendiceal (71.0%) carcinoids; these tumors exhibited invasive growth or metastatic spread in 3.9%, 27.5%, and 38.8% of patients, respectively.

Conclusions: Carcinoids appear to have increased in overall incidence over the past 30 years; for some sites, this trend has been evident for nearly half a century. Recent marked increases in gastric and rectal carcinoids and a concomitant decrease in appendiceal carcinoid incidence may be due in part to varying rules of registration among the compiled databases examined in this report or to improvements in diagnostic technology; increased awareness of and about carcinoid tumors also may play a significant role. In 12.9% of all patients with carcinoid, distant metastases already were evident at the time of diagnosis; the overall 5-year survival rate for all carcinoid tumors, regardless of site, was 67.2%. These findings bring into question the widely promulgated relative benignity of carcinoid disease. Certain carcinoid tumors, such as those of the rectum, appear to be over-represented among the black and Asian populations within the United States, suggesting the role of genetics in the development of this intriguing disease.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study

MeSH terms

  • Carcinoid Tumor / epidemiology*
  • Databases as Topic
  • Female
  • Gastrointestinal Neoplasms / epidemiology
  • Humans
  • Incidence
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Neoplasm Metastasis
  • Racial Groups
  • Sex Factors
  • Survival Rate
  • Time Factors