The pancreas produces enzymes that help digest food, as well as other multiple hormones that serve a variety of functions. These functions are carried out by two distinct cells. The cells that secrete hormones are called neuroendocrine cells (or Islet cells of the pancreas), while the ones that secrete enzymes are called exocrine cells. Depending on which hormone cells get affected and whether the tumor secretes hormones or not, different types of pancreatic neuroendocrine tumors can affect the body differently.
A pancreas neuroendocrine tumor (NET) often causes no symptoms in its early stages. People with a pancreatic NET may experience specific symptoms or signs.
Specific symptoms of pancreatic NETs are different, depending on the type of cancer. Some NETs form in nonfunctioning cells. These do not make hormones and do not cause symptoms for a long time. Symptoms appear when their growth puts pressure on other organs, such as the bile ducts. Other pancreatic NETs cause symptoms because of the overproduction of hormones. Here is the breakdown of symptoms that could be experienced.
What are the signs and symptoms of a nonfunctioning neuroendocrine tumor?
Nonfunctioning neuroendocrine tumors are pancreatic tumors that begin in the neuroendocrine cells of the pancreas but do not produce hormones. Hence, a person may not experience symptoms for a long time unless the tumor becomes large enough and puts pressure on the surrounding structures, such as the bile duct.
When symptoms do occur, they may include:
What are the signs and symptoms of a functioning neuroendocrine tumor?
A functioning neuroendocrine tumor of the pancreas produces excess hormones. Depending on the type of cells secreting the hormones, different types of functioning neuroendocrine tumors can form.
Gastrin is a hormone that helps digest food by stimulating the production of stomach acid. When a tumor develops in gastrin-producing cells, it is called gastrinoma, with symptoms such as:
- Ulcers (due to too much stomach acid)
They begin in the cells that make insulin. Because of these excess abnormal cells, a higher level of insulin is secreted, which can cause frequent episodes of hypoglycemia (a condition in which blood sugar level becomes low). It can result in symptoms that include:
- Dizziness or lightheadedness
- Fainting episodes
- Mood swings
- Blurred vision
Glucagon increases the amount of glucose present in the blood. A glucagonoma forms from a group of glucagon-producing cells. It causes hyperglycemia, which is a condition characterized by high blood sugar levels, and may result in symptoms such as:
A rash that spreads on the face, abdomen, or lower extremities may also result from glucagonoma.
Verner–Morrison syndrome (VIPoma)
VIPomas produce too many vasoactive intestinal peptides (VIP), which are involved in the regulation of water and electrolyte levels in the body. Its symptoms include:
- Watery diarrhea
- Irregular heartbeat
- Muscle cramping
- Muscle weakness
- Issues with digestion
- Poor absorption of vitamins and nutrients
- Flushing or redness of the face, neck, or chest
Somatostatinomas are extremely rare and large tumors that produce somatostatin. Somatostatin maintains the balance of gastrointestinal hormones by regulating their secretion.
Symptoms of a somatostatinoma include:
- Jaundice (yellowing of the skin or eyes)
- Unexplained weight loss
- Frequent urination
- Dry skin
Remember, if experiencing two or more of these symptoms, it may not necessarily be a pancreatic neuroendocrine tumor. These symptoms are also found in other medical conditions. If concerned about any changes, schedule an appointment with your doctor to discuss your symptoms.
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