Glucagonomas are rare cancers that start in neuroendocrine cells of the pancreas that make the hormone glucagon. These cells are called islet cells.
Glucagonomas usually make large amounts of glucagon. Glucagon is a hormone that raises the blood sugar levels in your body. When blood sugar levels fall, the pancreas produces glucagon. This makes the liver change glycogen into glucose (sugar). The glucose is then released into the bloodstream, which raises the blood sugar level again.
The pancreas is part of our digestive system.
The pancreas is quite high up in the tummy (abdomen). It lies across your body where the ribs meet at the bottom of the breastbone, just behind your stomach. It is about 6 inches (15 centimeters) and shaped like a leaf.
The pancreas has 3 parts:
- the wide part is the head
- the thin end is the tail
- the part in the middle is the body
The pancreatic duct is a tube that collects the digestive juices made by the pancreas and carries them into the first part of the bowel (duodenum).
How common it is
Glucagonomas are very rare. Only around 2 people in every one hundred million develop a glucagonoma every year.
Around 1 out of every 100 pancreatic NETs (1%) diagnosed every year are glucagonomas.
Cancer or non cancer?
Glucagonomas are cancers. Some glucagonomas grow slowly and don't spread to other parts of the body. Others can spread to other parts of the body (metastases).
The most common places where glucagonomas spread to is the:
- lymph nodes