Symptoms of Pancreatic Neuroendocrine Tumors

Pancreatic neuroendocrine tumors (pancreatic NETs or PNETs), also called pancreatic endocrine tumors or islet cell tumors, are tumors that form from the abnormal growth of hormone-producing cells in the pancreas called islet cells. The pancreas produces hormones that regulate blood sugar level, stomach acid production, the rate of food absorption and amount of water in the intestines. Pancreatic neuroendocrine tumors are either functional (produce hormones) or nonfunctional (do not produce hormones).

Functional pancreatic neuroendocrine tumors may cause the pancreas to overproduce certain hormones, resulting in a number of symptoms. The following table describes symptoms specific to functional pancreatic neuroendocrine tumors.

Type Hormone Overproduced Symptoms
Gastrinoma
(Zollinger-Ellison Syndrome)
gastrin Acid reflux, burning abdominal pain, diarrhea, excess fat in the stools and weight loss.
Glucaganoma glucagon High blood sugar, severe swelling or irritation of the skin, mouth sores, anemia and weight loss.
Insulinoma insulin Low blood sugar, which can cause heart palpitations, shakiness, perspiration, confusion and seizures.
Somatostatinoma somatostatin Because this hormone suppresses production of a variety of other hormones, symptoms are non-specific.  They include diabetes, gallstones, weight loss, diarrhea, excess fat in the stools, nausea and vomiting.
Vasoactive Intestinal Peptide Releasing Tumor
(VIPoma) 
(Verner-Morrison Syndrome)
vasoactive intestinal peptide (VIP) Severe watery diarrhea, which can lead to low blood potassium levels causing muscle weakness, fatigue and nausea.

Nonfunctional pancreatic neuroendocrine tumors do not cause the pancreas to overproduce hormones.  They are generally detected because of pain or jaundice caused by the large tumor size.

For more information about pancreatic neuroendocrine tumors, contact our Patient and Liaison Services (PALS) Program toll-free at 877-272-6226 or email pals@pancan.org.  PALS Associates are available Monday – Friday, 7 a.m. to 5 p.m., Pacific Time.

 

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