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Pancreatic Neuroendocrine Tumor (NET)
For people with advanced pancreatic neuroendocrine tumors (NETs), several medicines can help control symptoms and tumor growth. These drugs are used mainly when the tumor can’t be removed with surgery.
Somatostatin analogs are related to somatostatin, a natural hormone in the body. They can help slow the growth of neuroendocrine tumor cells. They can be very helpful for some patients with pancreatic NETs because these drugs stop tumors from releasing hormones into the bloodstream, which can often relieve symptoms and help patients feel better. They also seem to help slow the growth of some tumors, but cannot cure them.
These drugs can help reduce diarrhea in patients with VIPomas, glucagonomas, and somatostatinomas, help the rash of glucagonomas, and lower the levels of insulin in insulinomas. They are very useful in people who have carcinoid syndrome (facial flushing, diarrhea, wheezing, rapid heart rate), although this syndrome is not as common with NETs in the pancreas as it is with NETs found in other places. The drugs are also helpful for people whose tumors show up on a somatostatin receptor scintigraphy (SRS) scan or gallium-68 Dotatate scans.
Either drug may be given by your doctor or nurse, or you may learn how to give the injection at home.
The main side effects of these drugs are pain at the site of the injection, and rarely, stomach cramps, nausea, vomiting, headaches, dizziness, and fatigue. These drugs can also cause sludge to build up in the gallbladder, which can lead to gallstones. They can also make the body resistant to the action of insulin, which can raise blood sugar levels and make pre-existing diabetes harder to control. As a result, these drugs are only used to treat insulinomas if the tumor has somatostatin receptors as seen by a positive somatostatin receptor scintigraphy (SRS) or gallium-68 Dotatate scan.
Somatostatin analogs can be used to treat most pancreatic NETs. But other drugs may be added to treat specific symptoms or problems that are caused by the excess hormone being produced by the cancer.
Gastrinomas make too make gastrin, which increases stomach acid levels, and can lead to stomach ulcers. Proton pump inhibitors, for example omeprazole (Prilosec), esomeprazole (Nexium), or lansoprazole (Prevacid), block stomach acid production and may be given to decrease the chance of ulcers forming.
Insulinomas make too much insulin which causes very low blood glucose (sugar) levels. If the somatostatin receptor scintigraphy (SRS) or gallium-68 Dotatate scans are negative, showing the cancer does not have the somatostatin protein, then other treatments besides somatostatin analogs are considered to even out glucose levels. Diazoxide, a drug that keeps insulin from being released into the bloodstream, or diet changes (higher carbohydrate intake or more frequent meals) may be started to raise glucose levels.
Glucagonomas make too much glucagon, a hormone that increases blood glucose (sugar) levels. It works opposite of insulin. These cancers may be treated with medicines for diabetes if somatostatin analogs alone are not enough to control the high glucose levels.
VIPomas make too much vasoactive intestinal peptide (VIP), a hormone that regulates water and mineral (such as potassium and magnesium) levels in the gut. Treatment may involve giving intravenous (IV) fluids to treat the dehydration from diarrhea as well as certain minerals that are low.
The American Cancer Society medical and editorial content team
Our team is made up of doctors and oncology certified nurses with deep knowledge of cancer care as well as journalists, editors, and translators with extensive experience in medical writing.
Chan JA, Kulke M, Clancy TE. Metastatic well-differentiated pancreatic neuroendocrine tumors: Systemic therapy options to control tumor growth and symptoms of hormone hypersecretion. UpToDate website. https://www.uptodate.com/contents/metastatic-well-differentiated-pancreatic-neuroendocrine-tumors-systemic-therapy-options-to-control-tumor-growth-and-symptoms-of-hormone-hypersecretion Updated August 31, 2018. Accessed October 9, 2018.
National Cancer Institute. Physician Data Query (PDQ). Pancreatic Neuroendocrine Tumors (Islet Cell Tumors) Treatment – Patient Version. 2018. Accessed at https://www.cancer.gov/types/pancreatic/patient/pnet-treatment-pdq on October 9, 2018.
National Comprehensive Cancer Network. NCCN Clinical Practice Guidelines in Oncology: Neuroendocrine and Adrenal Tumors. V.3.2018. Accessed at https://www.nccn.org/professionals/physician_gls/pdf/neuroendocrine.pdf on October 9, 2018.
Schneider DF, Mazeh H, Lubner SJ, Jaume JC, Chen H. Chapter 71: Cancer of the endocrine system. In: Niederhuber JE, Armitage JO, Dorshow JH, Kastan MB, Tepper JE, eds. Abeloff’s Clinical Oncology. 5th ed. Philadelphia, Pa. Elsevier: 2014.
Strosberg JR. Classification, epidemiology, clinical presentation, localization, and staging of pancreatic neuroendocrine neoplasms. UpToDate website. https://www.uptodate.com/contents/classification-epidemiology-clinical-presentation-localization-and-staging-of-pancreatic-neuroendocrine-neoplasms. Updated Jan. 23, 2018. Accessed October 8, 2018.
Yao JC, Evans DB. Chapter 85: Pancreatic neuroendocrine tumors. In: DeVita VT, Lawrence TS, Rosenberg SA, eds. DeVita, Hellman, and Rosenberg’s Cancer: Principles and Practice of Oncology. 10th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins; 2015.
Last Revised: October 30, 2018
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