Pancreas NET

Neuroendocrine tumors. The pancreas is a large gland that sits behind the stomach, with two basic functions. It makes digestive juices to help digest your food and also several kinds of hormones (chemicals that play a role in the normal functioning of the body such as insulin to control the blood sugar). The cells that manufacture and release the hormones are called islet cells.


These islet cells are a rare cause of pancreas tumors (Islet cell tumors). Because these cells resemble nerve cells and hormone cells, the tumors are also called neuroendocrine tumors (Pancreatic NETs). There are two basic type of pancreatic NETs: functional and non-functional. Functional tumors make extra amounts of hormones, while non-functional tumors do not. The only known risk factor for these tumors is specific familial cancer syndromes.

Functional Tumors

  • Combination of abdominal pain with diarrhea and severe heartburn.
  • Low blood sugar reactions (lightheadedness, blurred vision, weakness, shaking).
  • Tongue and mouth sores, associated with skin rash on the stomach, legs, or face as well as diarrhea and weight loss.
  • Watery diarrhea in large quantities.

Non-Functional Tumors

  • Indigestion and increased gas.
  • Abdominal or back pain.
  • Mass or lump in the abdomen.
  • Jaundice (yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes with dark urine).


Symptoms of a pancreatic NET depend on the specific hormone produced in a functioning tumor. 


Non-functioning PNETs are much more common and in general are asymptomatic.


  • Blood tests look for increased levels of hormones.
  • Imaging tests such as CT scan or MRI scan to visualize your pancreas and look for the presence of a tumor.
  • Nuclear scans.
  • Endoscopic ultrasound guided needle biopsy (An ultrasound probe tipped, flexible tube with a camera (endoscope) is passed through your mouth to your stomach and small intestine. Pancreas is adjacent to these organs allowing examination of the pancreas and needle biopsy of the tumor.


Treatment of pancreatic NETs depends on several factors:

  • The type of tumor (type of functioning tumor vs non functioning tumor).
  • Location of the tumor within the pancreas.
  • Spread of the tumor to other parts of the body.
  • Presence of familial cancer syndromes. 
  • Overall health of the patient.

Surgery is the mainstay of treatment for pancreatic NETs. Medications to control symptoms (with functioning tumors) and chemotherapy agents may be necessary in addition to surgery.  If the PNET is small with low-risk features on biopsy, surveillance is also a reasonable option.


There is no known way to prevent the development of pancreatic NETs. However, maintaining a healthy lifestyle, including not smoking and getting regular exercise, may reduce the risk of the disease.

In some cases, pancreatic NETs may be hereditary. Certain genetic conditions, such as inherited mutations in the MEN1 gene, can increase the risk of pancreatic NETs. However, most cases of pancreatic NETs are not hereditary.

The survival rate for pancreatic NETs depends on the stage of the disease at the time of diagnosis and the person’s overall health. If the cancer is detected at an early stage, the survival rate may be higher. However, pancreatic NETs are often not diagnosed until they are at an advanced stage, which can lower the chances of survival.

Pancreatic NETs can be cured with surgery if it is detected at an early stage and has not spread to other parts of the body. However, the likelihood of cure is lower if these are detected at an advanced stage. In these cases, treatment may be aimed at controlling the cancer and improving the person’s quality of life.

Medications, such as chemotherapy and targeted therapies, may be used to treat pancreatic NETs. These medications may be used alone or in combination with surgery or radiation therapy. In some cases, medications that block the production of hormones or control hormone levels may be used to manage symptoms.

Yes, there are clinical trials for pancreatic NETs that are researching new treatments and therapies. Clinical trials are research studies that involve people and are designed to evaluate the safety and effectiveness of new treatments. Participation in a clinical trial is voluntary and may be an option for some people with pancreatic NETs.