Gastrointestinal neuroendocrine (carcinoid) tumours: current diagnosis and management

Med J Aust. 2010 Jul 5;193(1):46-52. doi: 10.5694/j.1326-5377.2010.tb03742.x.


Neuroendocrine tumours (NETs) are increasing in both incidence and prevalence and, as a group, are more prevalent than either gastric, pancreatic, oesophageal or hepatobiliary adenocarcinomas, or any two of these cancers combined. Clinical awareness of the protean and intermittent symptoms of NETs (eg, sweating, flushing, diarrhoea, and bronchospasm) is critical for timely diagnosis; however, the classical carcinoid syndrome is relatively uncommon. The most useful diagnostic test for gastrointestinal NETs is measurement of plasma chromogranin A (CgA) levels. Disease extent is assessed by both anatomical imaging, and nuclear imaging with radiolabelled somatostatin analogues. Pathological evaluation comprises tumour-node-metastasis classification, a minimum pathological dataset, CgA and synaptophysin immunostaining, as well as mitotic count or Ki-67 index (a marker of cell proliferation) to define grading. Resection of the primary lesion and as much metastatic disease as possible increases the efficacy of medical therapy. Other management strategies include hepatic embolisation and peptide receptor radionuclide therapy. Patients with tumours expressing somatostatin receptors should be treated with somatostatin analogues. Depending on the tumour grade, other effective agents include cytotoxics, tyrosine kinase inhibitors, and antiangiogenics. The overarching requirement for best management of patients with NETs is to ensure that they have ready access to experienced multidisciplinary clinician groups located within centres of appropriate subspecialty expertise.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Carcinoid Tumor / diagnosis*
  • Carcinoid Tumor / mortality
  • Carcinoid Tumor / pathology
  • Carcinoid Tumor / secondary
  • Carcinoid Tumor / therapy*
  • Chromogranin A / blood
  • Endoscopy, Gastrointestinal
  • Gastrointestinal Neoplasms / diagnosis*
  • Gastrointestinal Neoplasms / mortality
  • Gastrointestinal Neoplasms / pathology
  • Gastrointestinal Neoplasms / therapy*
  • Humans
  • Intestinal Neoplasms / diagnosis
  • Intestinal Neoplasms / therapy
  • Liver Neoplasms / secondary
  • Pancreatic Neoplasms / diagnosis
  • Pancreatic Neoplasms / therapy
  • Prognosis
  • Receptors, Peptide
  • Somatostatin / analogs & derivatives
  • Stomach Neoplasms / diagnosis
  • Stomach Neoplasms / therapy


  • Chromogranin A
  • Receptors, Peptide
  • Somatostatin