Symptoms of Pancreatic Neuroendocrine Tumors

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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 a Patient Central Associate toll-free at 877-272-6226 or email patientcentral@pancan.org.  Associates are available Monday – Friday, 7 a.m. to 5 p.m., Pacific Time.

 

 

Information provided by the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network, Inc. (“PanCAN”) is not a substitute for medical advice, diagnosis, treatment or other health care services. PanCAN may provide information to you about physicians, products, services, clinical trials or treatments related to pancreatic cancer, but PanCAN does not recommend nor endorse any particular health care resource. In addition, please note that any personal information you provide to PanCAN’s associates during telephone and/or email communications may be stored and used to help PanCAN achieve its mission of assisting patients with, and finding cures and treatments for, pancreatic cancer. Stored constituent information may be used to inform PanCAN programs and activities. Information also may be provided in aggregate or limited formats to third parties to guide future pancreatic cancer research and treatment efforts. PanCAN will not provide personal directly identifying information (such as your name or contact information) to such third parties without your prior written consent unless required or permitted by law to do so.

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