What Are Pancreatic Neuroendocrine Tumors (NETs)?

Pancreatic NETs grow in your pancreas, a gland in your belly that has two big jobs. It makes juices to digest food, and it makes hormones, which are chemicals that control different actions in your body. NETs grow in the cells that make hormones. These tumors usually don’t grow as fast as the more common kind of pancreatic cancer. Treatments can remove them, slow their growth, and make your symptoms better. Every situation is different, and how you get treated depends on what type of NET you have. There are two kinds: “functional” and “nonfunctional.”


No one knows what causes pancreatic NETs. People who have family members with a disorder called multiple endocrine neoplasia type 1 (MEN1), which can also affect the pancreas, are more likely to get them.

Other tumor-causing diseases that are passed down in families also raise your chances, including:

Von Hippel-Lindau syndrome

Neurofibromatosis type 1

Tuberous sclerosis



Because nonfunctional NETs often don’t cause symptoms until they become large or spread, doctors usually find them at a later stage.

You may have problems like:

  • Diarrhea
  • Uncomfortable feeling of fullness after eating
  • Lump in your belly
  • Pain in your belly or back
  • Yellowish skin or eyes

The symptoms of a functional NET depend on the kind of hormone it makes. You might feel:

  • Tired
  • Nervous or anxious
  • Confused
  • Shaky, dizzy, or lightheaded
  • Thirsty
  • More or less hungry than usual

You could have:

  • Weight loss or gain
  • Diarrhea
  • A need to go to the bathroom more or less
  • Pain in a specific place that won’t go away
  • A backup of stomach acid into your throat
  • Cough
  • Headache
  • Trouble seeing
  • Fast heartbeat
  • Sweating a lot
  • Raised, red rash on your lower leg, around your mouth, or anywhere your skin rubs together


CT scans (computed tomography). These are special X-rays that make detailed pictures of your insides.

MRIs (magnetic resonance imaging). They use powerful magnets and radio waves to make pictures of organs and structures inside your body.

If your doctor finds a tumor, you may need more tests to figure out its size, how far it has spread, and what type it is. For instance, you may get:

Endoscopic ultrasound. Your doctor puts a thin, flexible tube down your throat or into your rectum to see inside your body. A small device on the end sends out high-energy sound waves that can create an image of your organs, like the pancreas and lymph nodes.

Somatostatin receptor scintigraphy. You’ll get a small injection of a radioactive hormone. It attaches to the tumor, which helps the doctor see how large it is.

Biopsy. Your doctor takes a sample of tissue from your pancreas. Usually he uses a needle to take out some cells, but sometimes he’ll make a small cut instead. After the procedure, he’ll check the cells under a microscope.