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Alternative namesInsuloma; Islet cells adenoma
DefinitionAn insulinoma is a usually benign tumor of the insulin-secreting cells of the pancreas.
Causes, incidence, and risk factors
The pancreas is an organ in the abdomen that releases the hormone insulin. Insulin is required to regulate blood sugar levels. Tumors of the pancreas that produce excessive amounts of insulin (hyperinsulinemia) are called insulinomas.
High insulin levels cause hypoglycemia, or low blood glucose (sugar). Hypoglycemia caused by insulinomas may be mild and lead to symptoms such as anxiety and hunger, but patients are also at risk for severe hypoglycemia, which can cause seizures, coma, and even death.
Insulinomas are rare tumors that occur in about 1 out of 250,000 people. They usually occur as single, small tumors in adults. They are very rare in children. Most children with hyperinsulinism have multiple pockets of overactive insulin-secreting cells, rather than a discrete tumor.
Five to ten percent of insulinomas are malignant. Patients with the genetic syndrome called multiple endocrine neoplasia Type I (MENI), are at risk for insulinomas.
Signs and tests
Surgery is the preferred treatment for insulinoma. The tumor is localized with diagnostic testing or surgical exploration. Solitary tumors are removed, but patients with multiple tumors usually require partial removal of the pancreas (partial pancreatectomy). At least 15% of the pancreas is left to avoid malabsorption due to lack of pancreatic enzymes.
In a majority of cases, the tumor is benign and surgery is effective. However, a severe hypoglycemic reaction or the spread of malignant tumors to other organs (metastases) can be fatal.
Calling your health care provider
Call your health care provider if symptoms of insulinoma develop. Convulsions and decreased consciousness are emergency symptoms.
Update Date: 1/28/2003Todd T. Brown, M.D., Division of Endocrinology and Metabolism, Johns Hopkins Hospital, Baltimore, MD, and Chayim Y. Newmark, M.D., Division of Pediatrics, Saint Louis Children's Hospital, Washington University, Saint Louis, MO. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network.
Last updated: Tue, 06 Jan 2009 00:20:03 GMT