Pancreatic Islet Cell Tumors

Pancreatic islet cell tumors are rare types of hormone-producing tumors that form in tissues of the pancreas. The cells of the pancreas cluster together in small groups, called islets, throughout the pancreas. When a tumor occurs in one of these clusters, it is called an islet cell tumor. It may be benign or cancerous. The rare disease is also called pancreatic endocrine tumor, pancreatic neuroendocrine tumor and pancreatic carcinoid. Islet cell tumors grow much slower than pancreatic cancer. Learn more about pancreatic islet tumors.

Pancreatic specialists at Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH), including surgeons and gastroenterologists, collaborate to determine the best treatment for patients with rare hormone-producing tumors. Our surgeons offer a range of advanced minimally invasive surgery approaches, such as robotic surgery, for pancreatic islet tumors.

As the surgical team for the Pancreas and Biliary Tumor Center at Dana-Farber Brigham Cancer Center we partner with experts in conditions of the pancreas to determine the best course of treatment for pancreatic islet cell tumors that are cancerous.

Pancreatic Islet Cell Tumor Surgeons

Types of Pancreatic Islet Cell Tumors

Islet cell tumors are classified into the following types:

  • Gastrinoma (Zollinger-Ellison syndrome) causes elevated levels of a hormone which augments stomach acid production and produces ulcers.
  • Insulinoma produces too much insulin and causes seizures, fainting and low blood sugar.
  • Glucagonoma increases the amount of glucose in the bloodstream, causing changes in bowel habits, body weight and skin.
  • Others (VIPoma, somatostatinoma, non-functional) are classified based on hormone products produced and can have a variety of gastrointestinal and systemic symptoms.

Diagnosis of Pancreatic Islet Cell Tumors

General and gastrointestinal surgeons at BWH offer a range of procedures for diagnosing pancreatic islet cell tumors:

  • Blood tests
  • Lab tests check for specific type of pancreatic islet cell tumor.
  • Chest X-ray
  • Computed tomography scan (CT or CAT scan)
  • Ultrasound
  • Somatostatin receptor scintigraphy is a type of radionuclide scan that may be used to find small pancreatic tumors.
  • Endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography (ERCP)
  • Endoscopic ultrasound-guided fine needle aspiration (EUS-FNA)
  • Angiogram

Learn about diagnostic tests for pancreatic islet cell tumors.

Treatment for Pancreatic Islet Cell Tumors

Surgical Treatment

Brigham and Women’s Hospital general and gastrointestinal surgeons offer extensive expertise in the most advanced minimally invasive surgical procedures for pancreatic islet cell tumors:

  • Enucleation is surgery to remove the tumor only. This may be done when cancer occurs in one place in the pancreas.
  • Pancreatoduodenectomy (Whipple Procedure) is a surgical procedure in which the head of the pancreas, the gallbladder, nearby lymph nodes and part of the stomach, small intestine, and bile duct are removed.
  • Robotic distal pancreatectomy removes benign and malignant cysts and tumors in the body or the tail of the pancreas using the da Vinci ® Surgical System.
  • Laparoscopic distal pancreatectomy
  • Robotic gastrectomy
  • Total gastrectomy is surgery to remove the whole stomach.
  • Liver resection is surgery to remove part or all of the liver.
  • Radiofrequency ablation
  • Cryosurgical ablation

Non-Surgical Treatment

What You Should Expect

You will receive a thorough diagnostic examination to evaluate if you have a pancreatic islet cell tumor and determine what course of treatment is needed. Careful monitoring and the involvement of an experienced general and gastrointestinal surgeon are important to the successful outcome for patients with pancreas conditions.

If you are having surgery or a procedure, you will likely be scheduled for a visit to the Weiner Center for Preoperative Evaluation for pre-operative information and tests.

The day of surgery, you will be taken care of in the operating room by surgeons, anesthesiologists and nurses who specialize in pancreatic islet cell tumor surgery. After surgery, you will go to the post-surgical care unit where you will receive comprehensive care by an experienced surgical and nursing staff.

Learn more about your hospital stay and returning home.

Multidisciplinary Care

The Pancreas and Biliary Tumor Center at Dana-Farber Brigham Cancer Center provides advanced multidisciplinary care for patients with gastrointestinal diseases, such as pancreatic islet cell tumors. Our treatment team includes surgeons, medical and radiation oncologists, radiologists, pathologists, endoscopists, anesthesiologists and gastroenterologists. In addition, patients have full access to BWH’s world-renowned academic medical community with its diverse specialists and state-of-the-art facilities.

Pancreatic Islet Cell Tumor Surgery Appointments and Locations

Contact one of our pancreatic islet cell tumor surgeons in the list at the top of the page to make an appointment.

Pancreatic Islet Cell Tumor Surgery Locations


Learn more about pancreatic islet cell tumors in our health library.

Visit the Kessler Health Education Library in the Bretholtz Center for Patients and Families to access computers and knowledgeable staff.

Learn about the Weiner Center for Preoperative Evaluation.

Learn more about Brigham and Women's Hospital

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