What are VIPomas?

VIPomas are rare cancers that start in the neuroendocrine cells that make the hormone VIP. VIP stands for vasoactive intestinal peptide. It relaxes the muscles in the stomach and bowel, and helps to control the balance of sugar, salt and water in the gastrointestinal (GI) tract.

Around 9 out of every 10 VIPomas (90%) start in the pancreas. More rarely, VIPomas can start in the:

  • lungs
  • bowel
  • liver
  • adrenal glands
VIPomas are also a type of gastroenteropancreatic neuroendocrine tumours (GEP NETs) or pancreatic neuroendocrine tumours (pNETs).

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 VIPomas start in the tail of the pancreas.

How common it is

VIPomas are very rare. Only around 1 person in every 10 million develop a VIPoma every year.

Around 2 out of every 100 pancreatic NETs (2%) diagnosed every year are VIPomas.

Cancer or non cancer?

All VIPomas are cancers. VIPomas often grow slowly and are diagnosed early. But some people are diagnosed when their cancer has already spread to other parts of the body (secondary tumours or metastases). 

The most common places where VIPomas spread to is the liver and lymph nodes.

Last reviewed: 
01 Sep 2021
Next review due: 
01 Sep 2024
  • ENETS consensus guidelines for the management of patients with digestive neuroendocrine neoplasms: functional pancreatic endocrine tumor syndromes
    R Jensen and others
    Neuroendocrinology, 2012. Vol 95, Pages 98-119

  • VIPoma: Clinical manifestations, diagnosis, and management
    Emily Bergsland
    UpToDate, accessed May 2018

  • Rare Functioning Pancreatic Endocrine Tumors
    D O’Toole and others
    Neuroendocrinology, 2006. Vol 84, Pages 189-195

  • Cancer: Principles and Practice of Oncology (10th edition)
    VT DeVita, TS Lawrence, SA Rosenberg
    Wolters Kluwer, 2015

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