Skip Navigation

Pancreatic Neuroendocrine Tumors (Islet Cell Tumors) Treatment Option Overview

There are different types of treatment for patients with pancreatic NETs.

Different types of treatments are available for patients with pancreatic neuroendocrine tumors (NETs). Some treatments are standard (the currently used treatment), and some are being tested in clinical trials. A treatment clinical trial is a research study meant to help improve current treatments or obtain information on new treatments for patients with cancer. When clinical trials show that a new treatment is better than the standard treatment, the new treatment may become the standard treatment. Patients may want to think about taking part in a clinical trial. Some clinical trials are open only to patients who have not started treatment.

Six types of standard treatment are used:

Surgery

An operation may be done to remove the tumor. One of the following types of surgery may be used:

  • Enucleation: Surgery to remove the tumor only. This may be done when cancer occurs in one place in the pancreas.
  • Pancreatoduodenectomy: 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. Enough of the pancreas is left to make digestive juices and insulin. The organs removed during this procedure depend on the patient's condition. This is also called the Whipple procedure.
  • Distal pancreatectomy: Surgery to remove the body and tail of the pancreas. The spleen may also be removed if cancer has spread to the spleen.
  • Total gastrectomy: Surgery to remove the whole stomach.
  • Parietal cell vagotomy: Surgery to cut the nerve that causes stomach cells to make acid.
  • Liver resection: Surgery to remove part or all of the liver.
  • Radiofrequency ablation: The use of a special probe with tiny electrodes that kill cancer cells. Sometimes the probe is inserted directly through the skin and only local anesthesia is needed. In other cases, the probe is inserted through an incision in the abdomen. This is done in the hospital with general anesthesia.
  • Cryosurgical ablation: A procedure in which tissue is frozen to destroy abnormal cells. This is usually done with a special instrument that contains liquid nitrogen or liquid carbon dioxide. The instrument may be used during surgery or laparoscopy or inserted through the skin. This procedure is also called cryoablation.

Chemotherapy

Chemotherapy is a cancer treatment that uses drugs to stop the growth of cancer cells, either by killing the cells or by stopping them from dividing. When chemotherapy is taken by mouth or injected into a vein or muscle, the drugs enter the bloodstream and can reach cancer cells throughout the body (systemic chemotherapy). When chemotherapy is placed directly into the cerebrospinal fluid, an organ, or a body cavity such as the abdomen, the drugs mainly affect cancer cells in those areas (regional chemotherapy). Combination chemotherapy is the use of more than one anticancer drug. The way the chemotherapy is given depends on the type of the cancer being treated.

Hormone therapy

Hormone therapy is a cancer treatment that removes hormones or blocks their action and stops cancer cells from growing. Hormones are substances made by glands in the body and circulated in the bloodstream. Some hormones can cause certain cancers to grow. If tests show that the cancer cells have places where hormones can attach (receptors), drugs, surgery, or radiation therapy is used to reduce the production of hormones or block them from working.

Hepatic arterial occlusion or chemoembolization

Hepatic arterial occlusion uses drugs, small particles, or other agents to block or reduce the flow of blood to the liver through the hepatic artery (the major blood vessel that carries blood to the liver). This is done to kill cancer cells growing in the liver. The tumor is prevented from getting the oxygen and nutrients it needs to grow. The liver continues to receive blood from the hepatic portal vein, which carries blood from the stomach and intestine.

Chemotherapy delivered during hepatic arterial occlusion is called chemoembolization. The anticancer drug is injected into the hepatic artery through a catheter (thin tube). The drug is mixed with the substance that blocks the artery and cuts off blood flow to the tumor. Most of the anticancer drug is trapped near the tumor and only a small amount of the drug reaches other parts of the body.

The blockage may be temporary or permanent, depending on the substance used to block the artery.

Targeted therapy

Targeted therapy is a type of treatment that uses drugs or other substances to identify and attack specific cancer cells without harming normal cells. Certain types of targeted therapies are being studied in the treatment of pancreatic NETs.

Supportive care

Supportive care is given to lessen the problems caused by the disease or its treatment. Supportive care for pancreatic NETs may include treatment for the following:

  • Stomach ulcers may be treated with drug therapy such as:
    • Proton pump inhibitor drugs such as omeprazole, lansoprazole, or pantoprazole.
    • Histamine blocking drugs such as cimetidine, ranitidine, or famotidine.
    • Somatostatin-type drugs such as octreotide.
  • Diarrhea may be treated with:
    • Intravenous (IV) fluids with electrolytes such as potassium or chloride.
    • Somatostatin-type drugs such as octreotide.
  • Low blood sugar may be treated by having small, frequent meals or with drug therapy to maintain a normal blood sugar level.
  • High blood sugar may be treated with drugs taken by mouth or insulin by injection.

New types of treatment are being tested in clinical trials.

Information about clinical trials is available from the NCI website.

Treatment for pancreatic neuroendocrine tumors may cause side effects.

For information about side effects caused by treatment for cancer, see our Side Effects page.

Patients may want to think about taking part in a clinical trial.

For some patients, taking part in a clinical trial may be the best treatment choice. Clinical trials are part of the cancer research process. Clinical trials are done to find out if new cancer treatments are safe and effective or better than the standard treatment.

Many of today's standard treatments for cancer are based on earlier clinical trials. Patients who take part in a clinical trial may receive the standard treatment or be among the first to receive a new treatment.

Patients who take part in clinical trials also help improve the way cancer will be treated in the future. Even when clinical trials do not lead to effective new treatments, they often answer important questions and help move research forward.

Patients can enter clinical trials before, during, or after starting their cancer treatment.

Some clinical trials only include patients who have not yet received treatment. Other trials test treatments for patients whose cancer has not gotten better. There are also clinical trials that test new ways to stop cancer from recurring (coming back) or reduce the side effects of cancer treatment.

Clinical trials are taking place in many parts of the country. Information about clinical trials supported by NCI can be found on NCI’s clinical trials search webpage. Clinical trials supported by other organizations can be found on the ClinicalTrials.gov website.

Follow-up tests may be needed.

Some of the tests that were done to diagnose the cancer or to find out the stage of the cancer may be repeated. Some tests will be repeated in order to see how well the treatment is working. Decisions about whether to continue, change, or stop treatment may be based on the results of these tests.

Some of the tests will continue to be done from time to time after treatment has ended. The results of these tests can show if your condition has changed or if the cancer has recurred (come back). These tests are sometimes called follow-up tests or check-ups.

This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Navigating Care disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information. This information was sourced and adapted from Adapted from the National Cancer Institute's Physician Data Query (PDQ®) Cancer Information Summaries on www.cancer.gov.

See Expert Resources

The Navigating Care Library includes articles about cancer, chemotherapy regimens and drugs from the the National Cancer Institute and other experts.

Specific Facts for Your Diagnosis

Learn about treatment options and managing side effects from experts.

Get Support on Your Cancer Journey

Connect with thousands of members with your diagnosis and learn from their experiences.