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Neoplasms of the Endocrine Pancreas Medication

  • Author: Evan S Ong, MD, MS; Chief Editor: Jules E Harris, MD, FACP, FRCPC  more...
Updated: Apr 14, 2015

Medication Summary

The goals of palliative medical therapy for pancreatic endocrine neoplasms are (1) the reduction of symptoms related to hormonal excess and (2) the control of tumor cell proliferation.

Studies from a group in Sweden demonstrated that the combination of alpha-interferon and somatostatin analogs for the treatment of patients with advanced malignant endocrine pancreatic tumors resulted in radiological response in 3 (19%) of 16 patients (median duration, 23 mo) and biochemical response in 10 (62.5%) of 16 (median duration, 22 mo).[99]


Antisecretory agents

Class Summary

Used to modulate the release of gastroenteropancreatic hormones from both normal and neoplastic APUD cells in the treatment of pancreatic endocrine tumor syndromes to reduce specific symptoms related to hormonal excess.

Octreotide (Sandostatin)


Somatostatin analogue that binds somatostatin receptors on pancreatic endocrine tumor cells and inhibits release of many gastroenteropancreatic hormones.

Useful adjunct in palliative treatment of patients with most functional metastatic pancreatic endocrine tumors. Evidence suggests that it may also have antiproliferative effects in rare cases. However, symptomatic and antiproliferative effects last only months and are probably of short duration secondary to down-regulation of cell-surface somatostatin receptors (Maton, 1989). Because octreotide is a somatostatin agonist, it is not useful in the treatment of patients with somatostatinoma syndrome (Pless, 1986). Doses of 300-600 mcg/d or higher seldom result in additional biochemical benefit.



Class Summary

Used to modulate host immune responses to neoplastic cells. Control of tumor cell proliferation is the goal when these agents are used to treat patients with pancreatic endocrine tumor syndromes.

Interferon alfa-2a (Roferon-A) and alfa-2b (Intron A)


Protein product manufactured by using recombinant DNA technology.

Pancreatic endocrine tumor patients treated with human leukocyte interferon have objective response rates of 77%, with effects lasting > 1 year in some cases.

Responses represent primarily decreased hormone production rather than objective reduction in tumor bulk (Oberg, 1989). Mechanisms of hormone reduction and antitumor activity are not clearly understood; however, direct antiproliferative effects against malignant cells and modulation of host immune response likely have important roles.



Class Summary

Primarily reserved for patients with pancreatic endocrine neoplasms that are metastatic and/or unresectable.

While most experts agree that chemotherapy is indicated in patients who have symptoms from tumor bulk or uncontrolled syndromes of hormone excess that cannot be palliated with other means (eg, cytoreductive surgery, cryosurgery, radiofrequency ablation, hepatic artery embolization), no consensus exists on when therapy should be started in asymptomatic patients with metastatic or recurrent disease. One common practice is to reassess patients at 3- to 6-month intervals after diagnosis of metastatic or recurrent disease. Patients with clear tumoral progression are treated with chemotherapy, whereas those with stable lesions are monitored. No benefit from chemotherapy has been demonstrated in patients with metastases to only lymph nodes.

Studies of patients with advanced islet cell carcinomas in which streptozocin alone was compared with streptozocin plus 5-fluorouracil (5-FU) have overall response rates as high as 63%, and survival rates increased by as much as 1 year with combination therapy, although single-agent therapies have generally yielded lower response rates.[100] A study of streptozocin plus doxorubicin compared with streptozocin plus 5-FU revealed a better response rate of 69% and an increased survival rate for patients treated with streptozocin plus doxorubicin.[101] Use of liposomal doxorubicin markedly reduces the risk of cardiac toxicity with this regimen, while efficacy remains comparable.[102] In a study of patients with all types of GI neuroendocrine tumors, streptozocin was found to be more effective in patients with islet cell tumors than in those with carcinoid tumors.[89] However, a small study of patients with islet cell carcinomas treated with the combination of streptozocin, doxorubicin,and 5-FU had a response rate of only 54% and no complete responses.[103]

A number of other chemotherapeutic drugs, such as the taxanes, platinum compounds, gemcitabine, camptothecin analogues, targeted receptor antagonists, and antiangiogenesis/antiendothelial agents, have demonstrated activity against pancreatic endocrine tumors, but none has been adequately evaluated in these neoplasms or has demonstrated results as good as those of various combinations of streptozocin, doxorubicin, and 5-FU.[80]

Streptozocin (Zanosar)


Has diabetogenic action in some animals that is correlated with selective uptake of the drug by pancreatic beta cells (Schein, 1973). As a result, streptozocin is uniquely helpful in the treatment of insulinoma. Also inhibits cell proliferation and is cytolytic. Interferes with normal DNA function by means of alkylation and protein modification.

Doxorubicin (Adriamycin, Rubex)


Inhibits topoisomerase II and produces free radicals that may destroy DNA. Combination of these events can inhibit growth of neoplastic cells.

Fluorouracil (Adrucil)


Fluorinated pyrimidine antimetabolite that inhibits thymidylate synthase and interferes with RNA synthesis and function. Has some effect on DNA.

Contributor Information and Disclosures

Evan S Ong, MD, MS Assistant Professor of Surgery, Section of Surgical Oncology, University of Arizona College of Medicine

Evan S Ong, MD, MS is a member of the following medical societies: Society of Surgical Oncology, Americas Hepato-Pancreato-Biliary Association, American Society of Clinical Oncology

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Specialty Editor Board

Francisco Talavera, PharmD, PhD Adjunct Assistant Professor, University of Nebraska Medical Center College of Pharmacy; Editor-in-Chief, Medscape Drug Reference

Disclosure: Received salary from Medscape for employment. for: Medscape.

Benjamin Movsas, MD 

Benjamin Movsas, MD is a member of the following medical societies: American College of Radiology, American Radium Society, American Society for Radiation Oncology

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Chief Editor

Jules E Harris, MD, FACP, FRCPC Clinical Professor of Medicine, Section of Hematology/Oncology, University of Arizona College of Medicine, Arizona Cancer Center

Jules E Harris, MD, FACP, FRCPC is a member of the following medical societies: American Association for the Advancement of Science, American Society of Hematology, Central Society for Clinical and Translational Research, American Society of Clinical Oncology

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.


Eric J Hanly, MD, Ozanan R Meireles, MD, Michael R Marohn, DO, Charles J Yeo, MD, Keith D Lillemoe, MD, and Lisa H McGrail, MD, are gratefully acknowledged for their contributions to this topic.

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Neoplasms of the endocrine pancreas. CT scan image with oral and intravenous contrast in a patient with biochemical evidence of insulinoma. The 3-cm contrast-enhancing neoplasm (arrow) is seen in the tail of the pancreas (P) posterior to the stomach (S) (Yeo, 1993).
Celiac axis angiography illustrating neoplasms of the endocrine pancreas. Contrast is seen opacifying the common hepatic artery (CHA) and splenic artery (SA). The superior pancreatic artery (arrow) is seen as an early U-shaped branch of the splenic artery.
Highly selective distal angiography illustrating neoplasms of the endocrine pancreas. With the arterial catheter now advanced into the superior pancreatic artery, the contrast blush of this vascular tumor is easily seen (arrows).
Neoplasms of the endocrine pancreas. Intravenous and oral contrast-enhanced CT scan image in a patient with chronic diarrhea and elevated levels of serum vasoactive intestinal peptide. In the venous phase of this scan, the splenic vein (SV) is clearly seen draining the 5-cm tumor (T) located anteromedial to the spleen (S) in the tail of the pancreas.
Neoplasms of the endocrine pancreas. Schematic diagram of provocative angiography. Access to the central venous and arterial systems is obtained through cannulation of a femoral vein and a femoral artery. In the selective arterial secretin stimulation test, secretin is injected selectively into the splenic, gastroduodenal (a branch of the common hepatic), and inferior pancreaticoduodenal (a branch of the superior mesenteric) arteries with concomitant and subsequent hepatic venous sampling for gastrin. Based on the level of gastrin in each hepatic venous sample, the location of the gastrinoma is arterially mapped. An analogous method can be used in the selective arterial calcium stimulation test to determine the location of occult insulinomas that respond to calcium stimulation by secreting insulin.
Neoplasms of the endocrine pancreas. Graphic depiction of the results of a selective arterial secretin stimulation test in a patient with an occult gastrinoma. The gastrin gradient (the rise in hepatic vein gastrin concentration divided by the basal value) is plotted over time. An increase in gastrin gradient from 0 to 2 thus represents a 200% rise compared to the basal level. A significant rise in hepatic vein gastrin concentration is observed both after the injection of secretin into the superior mesenteric artery (SMA) and after secretin injection into the gastroduodenal artery (GDA), but no such increase occurs following secretin injection into the splenic artery (SPL). This patient's neoplasm is thus localized to the head of the pancreas or the duodenum
Neoplasms of the endocrine pancreas. Octreotide scan (anterior view) in a patient with a pancreatic endocrine tumor. The large pancreatic-tail neoplasm is seen retaining tracer in the patient's left upper quadrant. Several tracer-enhancing hepatic metastases are seen in the patient's right upper quadrant and epigastrium. Tracer is also seen in the bladder following renal excretion (round density in the hypogastrium) (Yeo, 2001).
Neoplasms of the endocrine pancreas. CT scan with oral and intravenous contrast in a patient with a glucagon-secreting neoplasm. This 10-cm contrast-enhancing tumor (T) is seen obliterating the normal appearance of the tail of the pancreas (Yeo, 2001).
Neoplasms of the endocrine pancreas. Endoscopic ultrasonography in a patient with an insulinoma. The hypoechoic neoplasm (arrows) is seen in the body of the pancreas anterior to the splenic vein (SV) (Rosch, 1992).
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