What are non functioning pancreatic NETs?

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. 

Most NETs of the pancreas are non functioning tumours.

The pancreas

The pancreas is part of our digestive system.

Diagram showing where the pancreas is in the body in relation to the other organs. This includes the stomach, liver, bowel and gallbladder.

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
Diagram showing 3 parts of the pancreas

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).

Most non functioning NETs of the pancreas start in the head of the pancreas.

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.

Last reviewed: 
28 Jun 2021
Next review due: 
28 Jun 2024
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