What is a Glucagonoma?

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  • Written By: J.M. Willhite
  • Edited By: Heather Bailey
  • Last Modified Date: 21 October 2019
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A glucagonoma is a rare type of tumor that forms in the pancreas. Generally malignant in composition, a glucagonoma possesses an increased potential to metastasize to other organs, namely the liver. Treatment for this serious medical condition usually involves the administration of chemotherapy and, in some cases, surgery.

Glucagonomas originate with the abnormal development of islet cells within the pancreas. Islet cells are responsible for the production and release of pancreatic hormones, such as glucagon and insulin. There is no known cause for the abnormal islet cell development that leads to the formation of a glucagonoma. In the presence of this type of tumor, glucagon production increases to the point that too much of the hormone is produced and released into the body.

Individuals with this type of pancreatic tumor may exhibit and experience a variety of signs and symptoms. Some may develop sporadic skin rashes that present as lesions or dry, scaly patches that affect the face, torso, or lower limbs. Inflammation of the oral cavity, frequent urination, and excessive thirst may also be signs indicative of the presence of this type of pancreatic tumor. Individuals may also develop glucose intolerance or high blood sugar, also known as hyperglycemia. Additional symptoms may include unintentional weight loss and diarrhea.


There are several diagnostic tests that may be performed to confirm the presence of a glucagonoma; though it is important to note that, in most cases, by the time a glucagonoma is detected it has already metastasized to the liver. Individuals may undergo a computerized tomography (CT) scan of the abdomen to evaluate the condition of the pancreas and surrounding organs in the digestive system. Blood tests may be conducted to measure glucagon and glucose levels and to check for abnormalities or markers indicating the presence of malignancy. Additionally, a glucose tolerance test may be performed to assess how the individual’s body metabolizes blood sugar.

Treatment for a glucagonoma usually involves the use of chemotherapy to shrink the tumor. Chemotherapy is a form of anti-cancer drug therapy that may be administered orally or intravenously. Individuals who undergo chemo treatments may experience side effects that can include fatigue, nausea, and vomiting. In the event that the glucagonoma does not respond to chemotherapy treatment, surgery may be performed to remove the tumor. Generally, the surgical removal of the abnormal growth is preferred to prevent the cancer from spreading and the development of complications.

The prognosis associated with a glucagonoma is dependent on the size and composition of the tumor and whether or not it has metastasized. The chances of the growth metastasizing prior to discovery are relatively high and may impair treatment success. When the tumor remains confined to the pancreas and is successfully removed, an individual’s five-year survival rate increases substantially.


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