Gastrointestinal endocrine tumours: medical management

Baillieres Clin Gastroenterol. 1996 Dec;10(4):737-59. doi: 10.1016/s0950-3528(96)90021-4.


With the introduction of longer-acting somatostatin analogues symptomatic relief is easy to achieve in patients with functionally active endocrine tumours and will be further facilitated by still longer-acting formulations. The consequences of gastric acid hypersecretion in patients with Zollinger-Ellison syndrome can be prevented by all proton-pump inhibitors currently on the market. Despite the various antiproliferative strategies that have been offered to patients with metastatic disease, available data are controversial and, more importantly, are supported by few prospective and controlled studies. Most experts agree that surgery with curative extirpation of the primary in the absence of metastases and tumour debulking in metastatic disease should be intended wherever possible. Controversy concerns residual disease. According to our view, any further antiproliferative strategy should consider the growth characteristics and biology of a given tumour (Figure 4). In the case of rapid progression, chemotherapy should be offered if tumours originate from the pancreas or reveal an undifferentiated histology. In contrast, chemotherapy should not be offered to patients with well-differentiated non-functional or functional tumours (carcinoid syndrome) arising from the intestine. The same applies for patients with tumours with no or only slow growth within an given observation period of 3-12 months. These patients should be treated only symptomatically. Patients with tumours of slow progression might favourably respond to long-acting somatostatin analogues. We start with octreotide and offer patients not responding to octreotide monotherapy additional IFN alpha. If further tumour progression takes place, hepatic artery embolization is the next step (Figure 5) followed by chemotherapy, the latter in patients with tumours of pancreatic origin only. This strategy recognizes the severity of side-effects of the different therapeutic modalities and starts with octreotide because of its very few side-effects. Other groups start with chemoembolization followed by octreotide, alpha-interferon or its combinations (Ahlman et al, 1996). Ongoing studies will, it is hoped, answer the question of the ideal sequence of therapeutic strategies. Every available patient with metastasised gastrointestinal endocrine tumours should be included in one of the ongoing European multicentre trials.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Antineoplastic Agents / therapeutic use
  • Combined Modality Therapy
  • Gastrointestinal Neoplasms / therapy*
  • Humans
  • Interferon-alpha / therapeutic use
  • Neuroendocrine Tumors / therapy*
  • Paraneoplastic Endocrine Syndromes / therapy*
  • Prognosis
  • Somatostatin / analogs & derivatives
  • Somatostatin / therapeutic use
  • Treatment Outcome


  • Antineoplastic Agents
  • Interferon-alpha
  • Somatostatin