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Pancreatic Neuroendocrine Tumor

Pancreatic Neuroendocrine Tumor

Pancreatic Neuroendocrine Tumor

Pancreatic neuroendocrine tumors (PNETs), also known as pancreatic islet cell tumors or pancreatic NETs, are rare tumors that originate from the hormone-producing cells (neuroendocrine cells) in the pancreas. These tumors can be either benign (non-cancerous) or malignant (cancerous).

Neuroendocrine cells are present throughout the body and are responsible for producing and releasing hormones that help regulate various bodily functions. In the pancreas, these cells are clustered together in small groups called islets of Langerhans. Pancreatic neuroendocrine tumors can develop from these islet cells.


The exact causes of pancreatic neuroendocrine tumors (PNETs) are not well understood. However, certain risk factors have been identified that may increase the likelihood of developing these tumors. These risk factors include –

  1. Genetic and hereditary factors – Some inherited genetic conditions are associated with an increased risk of developing PNETs. Examples include multiple endocrine neoplasia type 1 (MEN1), von Hippel-Lindau disease (VHL), neurofibromatosis type 1 (NF1), and tuberous sclerosis complex (TSC).
  2. Family history – Having a family history of PNETs or other neuroendocrine tumors may increase the risk of developing these tumors.
  3. Age – PNETs can occur at any age, but they are more commonly diagnosed in individuals over the age of 60.

Pancreatic Neuroendocrine Tumor

4. Gender – PNETs are slightly more common in women than in men.

5. Exposure to certain toxins – There is some evidence suggesting that exposure to certain chemicals, such as certain pesticides and industrial chemicals, may increase the risk of developing PNETs. However, the link between specific environmental factors and PNETs is still being studied.

Having one or more of these risk factors does not necessarily mean that an individual will develop a PNET. Many people with PNETs do not have any identifiable risk factors, and individuals without these risk factors can still develop PNETs.

Further research is needed to fully understand the causes and risk factors associated with pancreatic neuroendocrine tumors. If you have concerns about your risk or symptoms, it is recommended to consult with a healthcare professional who can provide a proper evaluation and guidance.


The symptoms of pancreatic neuroendocrine tumors (PNETs) can vary depending on the size, location, and hormone production of the tumor. Some PNETs are functional, meaning they produce hormones, while others are non-functional and do not produce significant amounts of hormones. Here are some common symptoms associated with PNETs –

1. Functional PNET symptoms

  • Insulinomas (produce excessive insulin) – Symptoms may include episodes of low blood sugar (hypoglycemia), which can cause weakness, dizziness, sweating, confusion, and fainting.
  • Gastrinomas (produce excessive gastrin) – Symptoms may include stomach ulcers, abdominal pain, acid reflux, heartburn, diarrhea, and weight loss.
  • Glucagonomas (produce excessive glucagon) – Symptoms may include skin rash, high blood sugar (hyperglycemia), weight loss, diarrhea, abdominal pain, and blood clots.

2. Non-functional PNET symptoms

  • Abdominal pain or discomfort – This can occur as the tumor grows and presses against nearby organs.
  • Jaundice – Yellowing of the skin and eyes may occur if the tumor blocks the bile duct, leading to bile accumulation.
  • Unintended weight loss – Loss of appetite and weight loss can be associated with advanced PNETs.
  • Digestive issues – These can include diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, and changes in bowel habits.
  • Fatigue Feeling tired or weak without a clear cause.

Some PNETs may not cause noticeable symptoms until they have reached an advanced stage or have spread to other parts of the body.

If you are experiencing persistent or concerning symptoms, it is advisable to consult with a healthcare professional for a thorough evaluation and diagnosis. They can conduct various tests, including imaging scans, blood tests, and hormone level assessments, to determine the underlying cause of your symptoms.

Diagnosis and Tests

The diagnosis of pancreatic neuroendocrine tumors (PNETs) typically involves a combination of medical history assessment, physical examination, and various tests. Here are some common diagnostic methods used for PNETs –

1. Imaging tests

  • Computed tomography (CT) scan – A CT scan can provide detailed images of the pancreas and help identify the presence, size, and location of a tumor.
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) – MRI scans use magnetic fields and radio waves to create detailed images of the pancreas, allowing for the detection and characterization of PNETs.
  • Endoscopic ultrasound (EUS) – This procedure involves passing an endoscope with an ultrasound probe through the mouth or rectum to visualize the pancreas and obtain detailed images of any tumors.
  • Octreotide scan – This nuclear medicine imaging test involves injecting a radioactive substance called octreotide, which binds to neuroendocrine tumors. A special camera then detects the radioactive signals emitted by the tumor, aiding in localization and staging.

2. Blood tests

  • Chromogranin A (CgA) – Elevated levels of CgA in the blood can be an indicator of neuroendocrine tumors, including PNETs. However, it is not specific to PNETs and can be elevated in other conditions.
  • Pancreatic polypeptide (PP) – Increased levels of PP in the blood can suggest the presence of a PNET.
  • Insulin, gastrin, glucagon, and other hormone levels – Blood tests may be done to assess hormone levels associated with specific functional PNETs.

3. Biopsy and histopathological analysis

  • Tissue biopsy – A sample of the tumor may be obtained through fine-needle aspiration (FNA) or core needle biopsy. This allows for a microscopic examination of the tissue to confirm the presence of a PNET and determine its grade and type.

4. Genetic testing

  • In cases where there is a suspicion of an inherited genetic syndrome associated with PNETs (such as MEN1 or VHL), genetic testing may be recommended to identify specific gene mutations.

Once a PNET diagnosis is confirmed, additional tests such as somatostatin receptor scintigraphy (SRS) or positron emission tomography (PET) scans may be performed to evaluate the extent of tumor spread (staging) and guide treatment decisions.

Diagnosing PNETs can be complex, and it is important to consult with a healthcare professional who specializes in gastroenterology, oncology, or endocrinology to ensure accurate diagnosis and appropriate management.


The treatment of pancreatic neuroendocrine tumors (PNETs) depends on several factors, including the tumor size, location, stage, grade, whether it has spread to other parts of the body, and the individual’s overall health. Treatment options for PNETs may include –

1. Surgery – Surgical removal of the tumor is often the preferred treatment for localized PNETs. The type of surgery performed depends on the tumor’s size, location, and spread. Options may include –

  • Enucleation – Removal of the tumor while preserving the surrounding pancreatic tissue.
  • Distal pancreatectomy – Removal of the tail and body of the pancreas.
  • Whipple procedure (pancreaticoduodenectomy) – Removal of the head of the pancreas, part of the small intestine, the gallbladder, and sometimes a portion of the stomach and nearby lymph nodes.
  • Total pancreatectomy – Removal of the entire pancreas, sometimes combined with removal of the spleen and nearby lymph nodes.

2. Radiation therapy – High-energy X-rays or other forms of radiation may be used to kill cancer cells or shrink tumors. It can be used before surgery to reduce tumor size or after surgery to destroy any remaining cancer cells.

3. Targeted drug therapy – Certain medications can target specific molecules or pathways involved in the growth and spread of PNETs. Examples include –

  • Somatostatin analogs –  Drugs like octreotide or lanreotide can be used to control symptoms and slow down tumor growth by blocking the release of hormones from functional tumors.
  • Tyrosine kinase inhibitors (TKIs) – Drugs like sunitinib or everolimus may be used to inhibit the growth of certain PNETs by blocking specific signaling pathways.

4. Peptide receptor radionuclide therapy (PRRT) – This treatment involves using a radioactive substance attached to a somatostatin analog. It targets and delivers radiation specifically to neuroendocrine tumor cells.

5. Chemotherapy – In cases where PNETs are advanced or have spread to other organs, chemotherapy drugs may be used to slow tumor growth and relieve symptoms. However, PNETs are generally less responsive to traditional chemotherapy compared to other types of pancreatic cancer.

6. Liver-directed therapies – If PNETs have spread to the liver, various localized treatments such as radiofrequency ablation (RFA), transarterial chemoembolization (TACE), or selective internal radiation therapy (SIRT) can be used to target and destroy tumors in the liver.

The choice of treatment and the sequence of therapies depend on the individual’s specific circumstances and should be discussed with a healthcare professional who specializes in the treatment of PNETs, such as a medical oncologist or gastroenterologist. Treatment decisions may also involve a multidisciplinary team of experts, including surgeons, radiologists, and pathologists, to provide comprehensive care.


The outlook for PNETs can vary depending on factors such as tumor grade, stage, functional status, and overall health. Low-grade tumors and early-stage localized tumors generally have a better prognosis. However, it is important to consider that each case is unique, and the prognosis should be discussed with a healthcare professional who can provide personalized information and guidance based on the specific circumstances.

As research and medical advancements continue, understanding the treatment options for PNETs may further improve, leading to better outcomes for individuals diagnosed with this condition.

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