What Are Pancreas Neuroendocrine Tumors?
Neuroendocrine cells are distributed throughout the body and are similar to nerve cells and hormone-producing cells in the endocrine glands. In the pancreas, they produce hormones that regulate blood sugar levels and stomach acid production. Neuroendocrine tumors in the pancreas can be benign or cancerous and may produce insulin, gastrin or glucagon.
Symptoms depend on the type of tumor and what hormone they produce. Symptoms include:
- Feeling tired or weak
- Double vision
- Fast heartbeat
- Abdominal pain
- Weight loss
Northwestern Medicine diagnoses neuroendocrine tumors by taking blood tests to determine fasting glucose level, glucose tolerance, gastrin level and insulin level and by taking imaging tests of the pancreas.
Surgery is usually performed to remove tumors. If the tumors are cancerous, surgery is usually combined with chemotherapy. Patients may also be prescribed medication to counteract the effects of excess hormone production.
Northwestern Medicine treats various types of neuroendocrine tumors including:
- Insulinoma: An insulinoma is a tumor that produces insulin, the hormone that lowers blood sugar levels, causing blood sugar levels to fall further than normal. Patients typically have low blood sugar that improves with eating, and some patients may experience headaches, lethargy and blurred vision. In severe cases, excess insulin can cause seizures, coma and massive weight gain.
- Gastrinoma: A gastrinoma is a tumor that produces gastrin, the hormone that regulates stomach acid production, leading to ulcers in the stomach, small intestine and pancreas, as well as diarrhea.
- Glucagonoma: A glucagonoma is a rare tumor that produces glucagon, the hormone that raises blood sugar levels, leading to weight loss, anemia, diarrhea and high blood sugar.