Pancreatic Neuroendocrine Tumors

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Pancreatic neuroendocrine tumors are rare, making up less than 5 percent of all pancreatic tumors, according to the American Cancer Society. Because they arise from a different cell line than the common form of cancer of the pancreas, they behave differently. Most occur sporadically and some are hereditary.

Neuroendocrine tumors are one of two distinct types of pancreatic tumors. The more common tumor, adenocarcinoma, usually is more aggressive than the neuroendocrine tumor, which is slow-growing. Neuroendocrine tumors are typically less aggressive and cause little or no pain.
Pancreatic neuroendocrine tumors may be functional or nonfunctional. Functional tumors make extra amounts of hormones that cause signs and symptoms. Hormone-producing tumors usually are referred to by the hormone they produce such as insulinoma and gastrinoma. They usually are diagnosed earlier than nonfunctioning neuroendocrine tumors. 

Nonfunctional tumors do not make extra amounts of hormones and will cause signs and symptoms as it spreads and grows. 

Diagnosis and Treatment of Pancreatic Neuroendocrine Tumors

Nonfunctional neuroendocrine tumors typically don’t cause symptoms until they become large enough to cause pain, weight loss, appetite loss or jaundice. Functional hormone-producing neuroendocrine tumors such as insulinomas can cause headaches, blurred vision, incoherent thoughts, sweating and rapid heart rate. Physicians measure hormone levels and other secondary effects to diagnose these tumors.

Neuroendocrine tumors are visible using high-quality CT scans, MRIs, endoscopic ultrasounds and octreotide scan, a non-invasive test to look for neuroendocrine tumor cells.

Surgeons sometimes can remove neuroendocrine tumors and often these operations can be performed laparoscopically. Unlike patients with adenocarcinoma, patients with a neuroendocrine tumor can sometimes benefit from an operation even if the tumor has spread. 

How Can Houston Methodist Help?

Houston Methodist Hospital’s expert surgeons, gastroenterologists, oncologists and radiation therapists are highly skilled in diagnosing and performing surgery on patients with neuroendocrine tumors. Houston Methodist Hospital’s rates for surgical blood loss, operation duration, hospital stay length and survival are among the best in the nation.

Houston Methodist’s experts usually can perform these procedures in less than three hours. Patients often get out of bed the day after surgery, and half go home within seven days following their operations.

Following surgery, some patients may require chemotherapy to kill tumor cells or medicine to control symptoms hormones produce.