Symptoms of glucagonoma

Glucagonoma is a type of neuroendocrine tumour (NET) that starts in the pancreas. Its symptoms can be vague. See your GP if you are worried.

Glucagonomas usually make the hormone glucagon. These are called functioning tumours. You might have symptoms caused by the increase in the amount of glucagon in your body. Glucagon helps to raise the level of blood sugar in your body.

These symptoms could be due to glucagonomas, but can also be caused by other more common medical conditions. It’s important to get them checked by a doctor.

Symptoms

Symptoms of glucagonomas usually develop slowly. Some people are only diagnosed with a glucagonoma some years after developing their first symptom. Symptoms might include:

Skin rash

This usually starts with small circles of redness which develop into itchy, painful blisters. The rash is called necrolytic migratory erythema (NME). It can affect most parts of the body but is more common in the:

  • buttocks
  • groin
  • back passage (anal area)
  • the sexual organs such as the penis and vagina (genitals)
  • lower part of the legs

Between 70 and 90 out of every 100 people with glucagonoma (70 to 90%) have NME.

Weight loss

You may lose a lot of weight even if you’re not dieting. More than 90 out of every 100 people with glucagonoma (more than 90%) lose weight.

Diabetes

Some people have high blood sugar levels. This causes:

  • thirst
  • passing a lot of urine
  • weakness
  • weight loss and hunger

Between 40 and 90 out of every 100 people with glucagonoma (40 and 90%) have diabetes.

Mouth ulcers

You might have broken areas of skin (ulcers) in the mouth that causes pain or discomfort. Between 30 and 40 out of every 100 people with glucagonoma (30 to 40%) have a sore mouth.

Diarrhoea

Diarrhoea means having more than 3 watery poos (stools) in a 24 hour period. You might also have diarrhoea at night and problems controlling your bowels (incontinence).

This happens to about 15 out of every 100 people with glucagonoma (15%).

Blood clots

Blood clots might develop in the deep veins of the body. This is called deep vein thrombosis (DVT). Symptoms of blood clots include:

  • pain, redness and swelling around the area where the blood clot is
  • the area around the clot may feel warm to touch

Blood clots can also develop in a blood vessel in your lungs. This is a pulmonary embolism (PE). Symptoms of PE include:

  • pain in your chest or upper back
  • difficulty breathing
  • coughing up blood
Blood clots can be serious. See your doctor straight away if you have any of these symptoms.

Mood changes

Mood changes include feeling depressed and agitated.

Low levels of red blood cells in your blood

This is called anaemia. It can make you feel very tired and breathless.

Anaemia happens in up to 80 out of every 100 people with glucagonoma (80%).

When to see your doctor

You should see your doctor if you have any symptoms that are unusual for you, won’t go away, or are getting worse. Although your symptoms are unlikely to be cancer, it is important to get them checked by a doctor.
Last reviewed: 
03 Aug 2021
Next review due: 
03 Aug 2024
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