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Pancreatic Cancer Health Center

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Pancreatic Neuroendocrine Tumors (NETs)

Getting a Diagnosis

Before you have any tests, your doctor will want to know:

  • How have you been feeling?
  • When did you first notice changes?
  • Do you have pain? Where?
  • How is your appetite?
  • Have you been thirsty?
  • Have you lost any weight?
  • Have you noticed any skin rashes?
  • Are you more tired than usual? When did this start?
  • Do you have any medical conditions?
  • Do you take any medications?
  • Does anyone in your family have an endocrine disorder? What type?
  • Do any illnesses run in your family?

Your doctor will do a physical exam and test for a tumor.

X-rays use radiation in low doses to make pictures of the inside of your body.

Blood and urine tests look at hormone and sugar levels.

CT scans, or computed tomography, are special X-rays that make detailed pictures of your insides.

MRIs, or magnetic resonance imaging, use powerful magnets and radio waves to make pictures of organs and structures inside your body.

If your doctor finds a tumor, you may need more tests to figure out its size, how far it has spread, and what type it is.

Endoscopic ultrasound. A doctor puts a thin, flexible tube down your throat or into your rectum to see inside your body. A small device on the end sends out high-energy sound waves that can create an image of your organs.

Somatostatin receptor scintigraphy. The doctor gives you a small injection of a radioactive hormone. It attaches to the tumor, which helps the doctor see how large it is.

Biopsy. Usually, the doctor uses a needle to take a sample of tissue from your pancreas. Sometimes, he'll make a small cut instead. Then he'll check the cells under a microscope.

Questions for Your Doctor:

  • Do I need more tests?
  • What type of NETs do I have?
  • How many tumors do you see?
  • Have you treated someone with NETs before?
  • Is surgery an option for me?
  • What other treatment do you recommend?
  • How will it make me feel?
  • Will my children get NETs, too?

Treatment

Doctors can treat NETs with surgery, chemotherapy drugs, and hormones. Your treatment will depend on:

  • What kind of tumor you have, functional or nonfunctional
  • Whether it's cancerous or not
  • How far it has spread

Surgery is the most common treatment. It can completely remove some NETs, especially those that aren't cancerous or haven't spread.

Your doctor may be able to get rid of just the tumor. Other surgeries remove different parts of the pancreas and maybe other organs. For example, the Whipple procedure (also called pancreatoduodenectomy) takes out the head of the pancreas and, because of how it's tied into other organs, the gallbladder, part of the small intestine, the end of the bile duct, and sometimes part of the stomach and nearby lymph nodes. If the tumor is large or spreads far, surgery may not remove it all.

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