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. 

Learn more about:

What are pancreatic NETs?

About 5% of all pancreatic tumours are pancreatic NETs. The rest are exocrine tumours, commonly referred to as pancreatic cancer. These begin in the exocrine cells that produce enzymes to help with digestion. 

NETs can occur in any part of the pancreas and can spread to nearby lymph nodes (part of the immune system), blood vessels or nerves. Cancer cells may travel through the bloodstream to other parts of the body, such as the liver.

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 the Unicorn Foundation on 1300 287 363.

Pancreatic NETs are rare. The more common types of pancreatic cancer – adenocarcinomas and other exocrine tumours – are covered here.

The pancreas

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

Exocrine function – The pancreas is 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.

Endocrine function – The pancreas is also 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.

The pancreas in the body

the pancreas

Who gets pancreatic NETs?

Pancreatics NETs are rare. About 3600 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 diabetes are more likely than others to develop pancreatic NETs. Other factors that may increase the risk include smoking, drinking 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) or neurofibromatosis. If you are concerned about your family history or want to know more about genetic testing, talk to your doctor or call Cancer Council 13 11 20.

Types of pancreatic NETs

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
  • glucanoma – produces too much glucagon
  • somatostatinoma – produces too much somatostatin
  • VIPoma – produces a hormone-like substance called vasoactive intestinal polypeptide (VIP). 

Click on the icon below to download a PDF booklet on pancreatic cancer and pancreatic NETs

Printed copies are available for free - Call 13 11 20 to order

Instructions for downloading and reading EPUB files

Apple devices

The iBooks application must be installed on your Apple device before you can read the EPUB.
Different ways to download an EPUB file to your Apple device:

  • email EPUB files to yourself and transfer the attachment to iBooks.
  • copy EPUB files into DropBox (or a similar service) and use the DropBox app to send them to iBooks.
  • open EPUB files directly from Mobile Safari and open them in iBooks, where they are saved automatically by downloading the EPUB from the website.

Need more help? Visit:


To download an EPUB file to your Kobo from a Windows computer:

  • download and save the EPUB directly onto your desktop.
  • connect your Kobo to your computer using the USB cable and tap “Connect” on your eReader.
  • select “Open folder to view files” to view the contents of your Kobo.
  • navigate to where you have stored your EPUB file in “Finder”, in documents or downloads, and drag and drop it into the Kobo window. You can now disconnect your Kobo to read the eBook.

To download an EPUB to your Kobo from a Mac:

  • download and save the EPUB directly onto your desktop.
  • connect your Kobo to your computer using the USB cable and tap “Connect” on your eReader.
  • open your “Finder” application.
  • select “Kobo eReader” from the listed devices to view the contents of your Kobo.
  • navigate to where you have stored your EPUB file in “Finder”, probably in documents or downloads, and drag and drop it into the Kobo window. You can now disconnect your Kobo to read the eBook.

Turn on your Kobo and your EPUB will be located in “eBooks”, while a PDF will be located in “Documents”.
Need more information? Visit:

Sony Reader

To download an EPUB file on your Sony Reader™:

  • ensure you have already installed the Reader™ Library for PC/Mac software
  • select the eBook you want from our website and click the link to download it.
  • connect the Reader™ to your computer.
  • open the Reader™ Library software and click “Library” in the left-hand pane and select the eBook to view it.

Need more help? Visit:

Amazon Kindle 2nd Generation devices

EPUB files can’t be read on the Amazon Kindle™. However, like most eReaders, Kindle™ 2nd Generation devices are able to display PDFs. We recommend that you download the PDF version of this booklet if you would like to read it on a Kindle™.
To transfer a PDF to your Kindle™ via USB cable from your computer or Mac:

  • download the PDF directly onto your computer.
  • connect the USB cable to your computer’s USB port, and the micro USB end of the cable to your Kindle™. Note: the Kindle™ won’t be available as a reading device while it is connected to your computer until it has been disconnected.
  • open the Kindle™ drive and several folders will appear inside. The “Documents” folder is where you will need to copy or drag the PDF to.
  • safely eject your Kindle™ from your computer and unplug the USB cable. Your content will appear on the Home Screen.

Kindle also provides a Kindle Personal Documents Service that allows users to send documents as an attachment directly to your eReader. For more information on this service, visit
For more information on accessing a PDF on your Kindle™, visit, log in to your account and click on Personal Document Settings.
Need more help? Visit

Android and PC

You can also download and open eBooks on Android devices and PCs with appropriate apps or software installed. Suitable eReader apps for Android include Google Play Books, FBReader and Moon+ Reader. Suitable software for PCs include Calibre and Adobe Digital Editions.

This information was last reviewed in February 2020
View who reviewed this content
View our editorial policy

Support services

Coping with cancer?
Speak to a health professional or to someone who has been there, or find a support group or forum

Cancer information

What is cancer?
How cancer starts and spreads

Pancreatic cancer
Learn about this cancer type, and its diagnosis, treatment and side effects