What are Pancreatic Neuroendocrine Tumors

Neuroendocrine cells are similar to nerve cells and hormone-producing cells in the endocrine glands. In the pancreas, they produce hormones that regulate things like blood sugar levels and stomach-acid production.

Neuroendocrine tumors in the pancreas can be benign or cancerous and may produce hormones like insulin, gastrin or glucagon. Symptoms can include fatigue or weakness, hunger, double vision, fast heartbeat, abdominal pain, diarrhea, ulcers and weight loss. Symptoms depend on the type of tumor and what hormone the person produces.

Physicians in the Northwestern Medicine Comprehensive Thyroid and Endocrine Surgery Program can diagnose neuroendocrine tumors by ordering blood tests to determine fasting levels of pancreatic hormones and by ordering imaging tests of the pancreas.

Surgery is usually performed to remove pancreatic 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.

Physicians in the Northwestern Medicine Comprehensive Thyroid and Endocrine Surgery Program treat 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 weight gain, headaches, weakness, and blurred vision. In severe cases, excess insulin can cause loss of consciousness, seizures, or coma.
  • 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. In some cases, patients may develop internal bleeding or stomach perforation.
  • Glucagonoma: A glucagonoma is a rare tumor that produces glucagon, the hormone that raises blood sugar levels, leading to weight loss, anemia, rash, diarrhea and blood clots.
  • Other rare tumors: Pancreatic polypeptideoma, somatostatinoma, and VIPoma

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