Neuroendocrine (Islet Cell) Tumors

An islet cell tumor is a tumor that develops in the pancreas from a type of cell called an islet cell. These cells manufacture and release hormones, such as insulin and glucagon, into the bloodstream. An islet cell tumor can be benign (noncancerous) or malignant (cancerous).

Overview and Symptoms

Neuroendocrine tumors, also known as islet cell cancers, are a group of cancers that can occur in the hormone-producing cells (islet cells) of the pancreas, and are very rare.

Neuroendocrine tumors sometimes don't cause symptoms. When they do, they can include:

  • Stomach ulcers
  • Heartburn
  • Diabetes
  • Weakness
  • Fatigue
  • Muscle cramps
  • Indigestion
  • Diarrhea
  • Weight loss
  • Skin rash
  • Constipation
  • Pain in your abdomen or back
  • Yellowing of your skin or eyes
  • Low blood sugar


Neuroendocrine tumors are diagnosed in a number of ways, including blood and urine tests, as well as imaging tests like CT scans, MRI or PET scans.

Your doctor may also recommend an endoscopic ultrasound. During this procedure, a thin tube with a camera at the end is passed down your throat and into your stomach and small intestine. During the ultrasound, pictures of your pancreas can be taken and the tumor can be biopsied.

Treatment at BIDMC

Treatment for a neuroendocrine tumor depends on the type of cancer, as well as your preferences and overall health. Options include:


If the neuroendocrine tumor is confined to the pancreas, treatment usually includes surgery. For cancers that occurs in the tail of the pancreas, the surgeon may remove the tail of the pancreas (distal pancreatectomy), leaving the head portion intact.

Whipple Procedure

Cancers that affect the head of the pancreas may require a Whipple procedure (pancreaticoduodenectomy), which involves removing the cancer and part or most of your pancreas.

Peptide Receptor Radionuclide Therapy (PRRT)

PRRT is a method that delivers radiation directly to the cancer cells.