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Pancreatic neuroendocrine tumors (PNETs) are tumors that form in the islet cells of the pancreas, which are responsible for producing hormones, such as insulin and glucagon. Also known as islet cell tumors, PNETs are uncommon, accounting for only 5 percent of all pancreatic cancers. Additionally, pancreatic neuroendocrine tumors can be malignant (cancerous) or benign (not cancerous). PNETs are classified as either functional, meaning they produce hormones, or nonfunctional, meaning they do not produce hormones.

Causes of pancreatic neuroendocrine tumors

Pancreatic neuroendocrine tumors occur due to DNA mutations that cause abnormal growth of the pancreas’ endocrine cells. While much is still unknown about the reasons behind these mutations, experts believe that genetics and environmental factors may play a role. Additionally, pancreatic inflammation, which can be caused by conditions such as pancreatitis or alcoholism, is also believed to play a role in these genetic mutations.

What is the treatment for pancreatic neuroendocrine tumors?

There are six main types of treatment that are commonly used for patients with pancreatic neuroendocrine tumors. They are:

  • Surgery – Part or all of the tumor is removed.
  • Chemotherapy – Powerful cancer killing drugs are given orally or intravenously.
  • Hormone therapy – Hormones are removed or blocked to stop cancer cells from growing.
  • Targeted therapy – Drugs are used to identify and kill cancer cells without harming healthy cells.
  • Hepatic arterial occlusion – Blood flow to the liver through the hepatic artery is blocked or reduced to prevent the tumor from growing.
  • Chemoembolization – Chemotherapy drugs are administered into the hepatic artery during hepatic arterial occlusion, trapping most of the chemotherapy medication near the tumor.

At Moffitt Cancer Center, the experts in our Gastrointestinal Oncology Program carefully review each patient’s case to ensure his or her treatment plan addresses the challenges of their cancer, providing a level of individualized care that results in the best possible outcomes and an improved quality of life.

If you have been diagnosed with a pancreatic neuroendocrine tumor and would like to discuss your treatment options with a Moffitt physician, call 1-888-663-3488 or submit a new patient registration form online. Referrals are not required.