An insulinoma is a tumor in the pancreas that produces too much insulin.
Insuloma; Islet cell adenoma
Causes, incidence, and risk factors
The pancreas is an organ in the abdomen. The pancreas makes several enzymes and hormones, including the hormone insulin. Insulin's job is to reduce the level of sugar (glucose) in the blood by helping it move into cells.
Most of the time when your blood sugar level drops too low, the pancreas stops making insulin until your blood sugar returns to normal. Tumors of the pancreas that produce too much insulin are called insulinomas. Insulinomas keep making insulin, even when your blood sugar drops too low.
A high blood insulin level causes a low blood sugar level (hypoglycemia). Hypoglycemia may be mild, leading to symptoms such as anxiety and hunger. Or it can be severe, leading to seizures, coma, and even death.
Insulinomas are rare tumors. They usually occur as single, small tumors in adults.
These tumors are very rare in children. Most children with high blood insulin levels have many areas of overactive insulin-releasing cells in the pancreas, instead of a single tumor.
Signs and tests
After fasting, your blood may be tested for:
- Blood C-peptide level
- Blood glucose level
- Blood insulin level
- Drugs that cause the pancreas to release insulin
Surgery is the recommended treatment for insulinoma. The tumor is first found by tests or surgery. Medication may be used to get patients stable before surgery.
If there is a single tumor, it will be removed. If there are many tumors, part of the pancreas will need to be removed (partial pancreatectomy). At least 15% of the pancreas must be left to produce its enzymes for digestion. This may prevent the surgeon from removing the whole insulinoma tumor.
In rare cases, the entire pancreas is removed if there are many insulinomas or they continue to come back. Removing the entire pancreas leads to diabetes because there is no longer any insulin being produced. Insulin injections are then required.
If no tumor is found during surgery, or if you are not a candidate for surgery, you may get the drug diazoxide to lower insulin production and prevent hypoglycemia. A diuretic (water pill) is given with this medication to prevent the body from retaining fluid. Octreotide is used to reduce insulin release in some patients.
In most cases, the tumor is non-cancerous (benign), and surgery can cure the disease. But a severe hypoglycemic reaction or the spread of a cancerous tumor to other organs can be life-threatening.
- Severe hypoglycemic reaction
- Spreading of a cancerous tumor (metastasis)
- Diabetes if the entire pancreas is removed (rare)
Calling your health care provider
Call your health care provider if you develop any symptoms of insulinoma. Convulsions and decreased consciousness are an emergency -- call 911 or your local emergency number right away.
Cryer PE. Hypoglycemia. In: Shlomo M, Polonsky KS, Larsen PR, Kronenberg HM, eds. Williams Textbook of Endocrinology. 12th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2011:chap 34.
Jensen RT, Norton JA. Endocrine tumors of the pancreas and gastrointestinal tract. In: Feldman M, Friedman LS, Brandt LJ, eds. Sleisenger and Fordtran's Gastrointestinal and Liver Disease. 9th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2010:chap 32.
National Cancer Institute: PDQ Pancreatic neuroendocrine tumors (islet cell tumors) treatment. Bethesda, MD: National Cancer Institute. Date last modified 11/10/2012. Available at: http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/pdq/treatment/pancreatic/HealthProfessional. Accessed January 3, 2013.
The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Links to other sites are provided for information only -- they do not constitute endorsements of those other sites. ©1997-2013 A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.
Sign Up for Free Newsletters
Ask Your Doctor the RIGHT Questions!
the most from your doctor visit.
Emailed right to you!
The Ask Your Doctor email series
may contain sponsored content.
18+, US residents only please.
Explore Original Articles About...
Get the MOST from QualityHealth
- Top Searches
- 1. Arthritis Management: Nature Heals
- 2. 5 Digestive To-Dos
- 3. Men: Should You Shave It or Leave It?
- 4. Today's Top Fitness Trends
- 5. Sugar and Osteoarthritis : The Link
- 6. Can't Afford Your Hospital Bills?
- 7. Stay Energized All Day Long
- 8. Phobias: Who Has Them and Why?
- 9. What If Your EpiPen Fails?
- 10. 5 Costly Medical Billing Mistakes
- 1. Ice Falls Can Cause Serious Injuries
- 2. Can Inactivity Act Like a Disease?
- 3. Kale Snack Recipe for Diabetics
- 4. How Running Affects Arthritis
- 5. Sugar and Your Immunity System
- 6. Do Weight Loss Supplements Work?
- 7. 5 Super Foods for Spring
- 8. The Hazards of Reusable Bags
- 9. How to Avoid Ingrown Hairs
- 10. Health Tip: Constantly Change Shoes
- 1. 4 Common Treatments for Epilepsy
- 2. What Does a Urogynecologist Do?
- 3. GERD Without Heartburn? It's Possible
- 4. Graston Technique: Can It Work on You?
- 5. Music Therapy Can Help Autism
- 6. 8 Ways to Fight MS-Related Fatigue
- 7. Can You Still Bleed After Menopause?
- 8. Be Your Own Health Care Advocate
- 9. Why Is Syphillis on the Rise?
- 10. Ideal Weight vs. Happy Weight
The material on the QualityHealth Web site is for informational purposes only, and is not a substitute for medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment provided by a physician or other qualified health provider. See additional information.