- Pancreatic neuroendocrine tumours (NETs)
Pancreatic neuroendocrine tumours (NETs)
Pancreatic neuroendocrine tumours (NETs) are cancers that begin in the endocrine cells of the pancreas. The endocrine cells produce hormones to control blood sugar levels.
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About 5% of all pancreatic tumours are pancreatic NETs. The rest are exocrine tumours, commonly referred to as pancreatic cancer.
NETs can occur in any part of the pancreas and can spread to nearby lymph nodes (part of the immune system) or nearby organs such as the stomach or colon.
There are two main categories of pancreatic NETs: functioning and non-functioning. Functioning pancreatic NETS produce extra amounts of hormones, while non-functioning do not produce extra hormones.
Types of functioning NETS include:
- gastrinoma – produces too much gastrin
- insulinoma – produces too much insulin
- glucagonoma – produces too much glucagon
- somatostatinoma – produces too much somatostatin
- VIPoma – produces a hormone-like substance called vasoactive intestinal polypeptide (VIP).
In this section we look at neuroendocrine tumours of the pancreas (pancreatic NETs). Neuroendocrine tumours can also affect other areas of the body, including the lungs, kidneys and bowel. For more on these types of tumours, call 13 11 20 or contact NeuroEndocrine Cancer Australia on 1300 287 363.
Pancreatic NETs are rare. The more common types of pancreatic cancer are adenocarcinomas and other exocrine tumours.
The pancreas is a long, flat gland about 13–15 cm long that lies between your stomach and spine. It is divided into three parts:
- the large rounded end, called the head of the pancreas
- the middle part, known as the body
- the narrow end, called the tail.
A tube called the pancreatic duct connects the pancreas to the first part of the small bowel (duodenum). Another tube, called the common bile duct, joins with the pancreatic duct and connects the liver and gall bladder to the duodenum.
What the pancreas does
Endocrine function – The pancreas is part of the endocrine system, a group of glands that makes the body’s hormones. Endocrine cells in the pancreas make hormones that control blood sugar levels, the amount of acid produced by the stomach, and how quickly food is absorbed. For example, the hormone insulin decreases the level of sugar in the blood, while the hormone glucagon increases it.
Exocrine function – The pancreas is also part of the digestive system, which helps the body digest food and turn it into energy. Exocrine cells make pancreatic enzymes, which are digestive juices. The pancreatic duct carries these juices from the pancreas into the duodenum, where they help to break down food. Most of the pancreas is made up of exocrine tissue.
The pancreas in the body
Who gets pancreatic NETs?
Pancreatics NETs are rare. About 3800 Australians are diagnosed with a neuroendocrine tumour each year, but only about 6% of these tumours are in the pancreas.
What causes pancreatic NETs?
The causes of pancreatic NETS are not known, but research has shown that people with Type 2 diabetes are more likely than others to develop pancreatic NETs. Other factors that may increase the risk include smoking, drinking too much alcohol, obesity and a family history of cancer.
Most people with pancreatic NETs do not have a family history of the disease. However, some pancreatic NETs are caused by a rare inherited syndrome, such as multiple endocrine neoplasia type 1 (MEN1), neurofibromatosis (NF-1), Von Hippel-Lindau (VHL) disease or tuberous sclerosis. People with a strong family history of cancer can attend a family cancer clinic for genetic counselling and tests. For more information, talk to your doctor, local family cancer centre or Cancer Council 13 11 20.
Download a PDF booklet on this topic.
Dr Lorraine Chantrill, Head of Department, Medical Oncology, Illawarra Shoalhaven Local Health District, NSW; Marion Bamblett, Nurse Unit Manager, Cancer Centre, Fiona Stanley Hospital, WA; Prof Katherine Clark, Clinical Director of Palliative Care, Northern Sydney Local Health District Cancer and Palliative Care Network, and Conjoint Professor, Northern Clinical School, The University of Sydney, NSW; Lynda Dunstone, Consumer; Kate Graham, Accredited Practising Dietitian – Upper GI Dietitian, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, VIC; Dr Gina Hesselberg, Radiation Oncologist, St George Hospital Cancer Centre, NSW; Dr Marni Nenke, Endocrinologist and Mary Overton Early Career Research Fellow, Royal Adelaide Hospital, SA; Caitriona Nienaber, 13 11 20 Consultant, Cancer Council WA; A/Prof Nicholas O’Rourke, Head of Hepatobiliary Surgery, Royal Brisbane Hospital and The University of Queensland, QLD; Rose Rocca, Senior Clinical Dietitian – Upper GI, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, VIC; Gail Smith, Consumer. We also thank the health professionals, consumers and editorial teams who have worked on previous editions of this title.
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