Neuroendocrine tumours (NETs) are rare cancers that start in neuroendocrine cells. There are neuroendocrine cells in most organs of our body, including the pancreas.
There are 2 types of NETs of the pancreas:
- cancers that don’t make hormones, or make hormones that don’t cause a set of symptoms (non functioning tumours)
- cancers that make hormones and cause a set of symptoms (functioning tumours)
Functioning tumours include insulinomas, gastrinomas, somatostatinomas, glucagonomas and VIPomas.
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).
The pancreas is a leaf shaped organ tucked under the liver, close to the gallbladder, stomach and bowel.
It is part of both the digestive and endocrine systems.
The pancreas lies across your body just behind your stomach. It is about 15 centimetres long.
The pancreas has three parts.
The wide end is called the head.
The middle is called the body.
The thin end is called the tail.
The pancreas is a large gland. It makes hormones which regulate the level of sugar in your blood. One of these hormones is Insulin.This is the endocrine function of the pancreas.
The pancreas also makes digestive juices
The juices flow down a tube called the pancreatic duct into the first part of the small bowel.
The bile duct joins the small bowel right next to the pancreatic duct.
The place where the 2 ducts join and meet the bowel is called the ampulla of Vater.
Digestive juices contain enzymes that help you to break down food in the bowel.
This is called the exocrine function of the pancreas.
Cancer that starts in the cells that make digestive juices is called exocrine pancreatic cancer. This is the most common type of pancreatic cancer.
Cancers that start in the cells that make insulin and other hormones, are called endocrine pancreatic cancers or Pancreatic neuroendocrine tumours.
Close to the pancreas there are lymph nodes that are part of our immune system and help us fight infections.
Lymph nodes are often the first place cancer cells reach when they break away from a tumour.
For information about pancreatic cancer go to cruk.org/cancer-types
How common are non functioning pancreatic NETs?
Non functioning pancreatic NETs are very rare. Up to 2 people in every million develop a non functioning pancreatic NET every year.
Non functioning pancreatic NETs are the most common type of NETs of the pancreas.
Cancer or non cancer?
All non functioning NETs of the pancreas are cancers. Some cancers are diagnosed early and grow slowly. Others can spread to other parts of the body (metastases).
Non functioning pancreatic NETs often spread to the liver and the lymph nodes.