Carcinoid tumors of the pancreas

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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:


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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