What is an Insulinoma?

J.M. Willhite

An insulinoma is a type of pancreatic tumor that adversely affects the body's insulin production. Generally benign in composition, an insulinoma has the potential to gravely impact an individual’s blood glucose levels resulting in the development of a hypoglycemic condition. Prognosis associated with an insulinoma is generally good with appropriate treatment, which often includes the excision of the abnormal growth.

The proper functioning of the pancreas is essential for appropriate insulin production and regulation.
The proper functioning of the pancreas is essential for appropriate insulin production and regulation.

Individuals who develop an insulinoma, also known as an insuloma, frequently experience a variety of signs and symptoms. Oftentimes, people will develop personality or behavioral changes, experience persistent headaches or dramatic weight fluctuations. Physiological changes including impaired cognition, consciousness, and sensory perception may also manifest in the presence of this type of pancreatic tumor.

The pancreas gland aids in digestion and produces insulin.
The pancreas gland aids in digestion and produces insulin.

As with the formation of many tumors, there is no known cause for the mutation of the beta cells associated with the development of an insulinoma. The proper functioning of the pancreas is essential for appropriate insulin production and regulation. Insulin is the key to maintaining proper blood sugar levels within the human body, and the presence of this type of tumor induces an overproduction of this valuable hormone. Rare in its occurrence, an insulinoma may be detected using a variety of diagnostic tools.

An ultrasound is one test that helps evaluate the pancreas and surrounding organs is an insulinoma is suspected.
An ultrasound is one test that helps evaluate the pancreas and surrounding organs is an insulinoma is suspected.

Generally a battery of imaging tests, including a computerized tomography (CT) scan or ultrasound, may be administered to evaluate the condition and functionality of the pancreas and surrounding organs within the abdomen. A physician may also order a panel of blood tests to assess insulin and glucose levels, as well as to check for markers indicative of other conditions. Once the presence of an insulinoma has been confirmed, treatment approach may be based on the tumor's location and presentation.

In an insulinoma spreads beyond the pancreas, aggressive chemotherapy treatments may be necessary.
In an insulinoma spreads beyond the pancreas, aggressive chemotherapy treatments may be necessary.

Nearly all diagnoses of an insuloma necessitate the surgical excision of the abnormal growth. The discovery of several insulomas may require the removal of pancreatic tissue, a procedure known as a partial pancreatectomy. Medications may be utilized to reduce insulin levels, prevent hypoglycemic symptoms, and prevent fluid retention.

Due to the benign composition of most insulinomas, individuals whose tumors are removed successfully receive a good prognosis. In the event the insuloma is determined to be malignant, additional treatment may be pursued to prevent the further maturation of the tumor and metastasis, or the spread of cancerous cells beyond the pancreas. Aside from surgery, treatment for a malignant insulinoma generally involves the administration of chemo and radiation therapies. If the cancerous cells have spread beyond the pancreas, intense chemotherapy treatment may be administered to target and eliminate cancerous cells and prevent further malignancy.

Sugar consumption spurs the pancreas to produce too much insulin.
Sugar consumption spurs the pancreas to produce too much insulin.

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