What is Insulinoma?
Insulinoma is a rare tumor of the pancreas. It is made of beta cells in the pancreas that make insulin and control your blood sugar.
Your pancreas usually produces more insulin when your blood sugar is high and less when your blood sugar is low. However, an insulinoma produces insulin all the time, even when your blood sugar is low.
This condition may lead to hypoglycemia or low blood sugar. Hypoglycemia is a condition that can cause blurred vision, dizziness, fainting and can even be life-threatening.
Insulinoma is also referred to as neuroendocrine tumor, because it begins in the special cells in your body called neuroendocrine cells. These tumors are usually small – less than an inch, and nearly all of them are non-cancerous. In most cases, surgery can cure the condition.
Causes of Insulinoma
It is unclear why a person can get an insulinoma – since tumors usually appear without warning.
Your pancreas makes insulin from the food you eat. Insulin is a hormone that helps your body store sugar from your food. After the sugar is absorbed, your pancreas will stop producing insulin. Normally, this process keeps your blood sugar levels stable.
However, you may have an impaired pancreas as an insulinoma develops. The tumor continues to produce insulin even when your blood sugar gets too low. This can lead to hypoglycemia – a serious condition characterized by low blood sugar levels.
When to See a Doctor
It can be difficult for doctors to diagnose an insulinoma, as the symptoms are similar to those of other common health problems. It may take some time before your doctor can diagnose an insulinoma. Your doctor may ask you to undergo a series of tests, such as blood tests and suppression tests.
To find out if you have an insulinoma, your doctor will test your blood sugar, insulin, C-peptide, and proinsulin during a 72-hour rest. This test will confirm that:
- You experience symptoms of low blood sugar, especially after not eating or doing strenuous exercise
- Your blood sugar is actually low when you experience those symptoms.
- Your symptoms go away once your blood sugar rises.
To perform the test, your doctor will monitor what happens to your blood sugar after you fast for a day or two. You may need to stay in the hospital during this time and you should not eat or drink anything but water.
Your doctor will also test your blood to see if you have low blood sugar and a high insulin level.
Your doctor may also perform imaging tests such as a CT scan, ultrasound, or MRI to monitor where the tumor grows.
Symptoms of Insulinoma
An insulinoma develops when your body produces too much insulin. It can cause symptoms of low blood sugar or hypoglycemia.
Hypoglycemia can be dangerous if your blood sugar drops too low. You might pass out or go into a coma. This condition commonly affects diabetics. People with diabetes usually consume too much medication, skip meals, or exercise more than usual – all of which lower the blood sugar level.
To get the proper treatment before it is too late, you should be aware of the symptoms of insulinoma, such as:
- Pale skin.
- Blurred vision
- Rapid heartbeat
- Personality changes
- Lack of muscle coordination
- Vision changes
Treatment for Insulinoma
The main choice of treatment for insulinoma is surgery. It is performed to remove the tumors.
The surgery depends on the type, size, and location of the tumor. Your surgeon may remove insulinoma from the surface of your pancreas. Although rare, your doctor may need to remove the part of the pancreas connected to the tumor.
You may be able to undergo laparoscopic surgery to remove insulinoma. In this procedure, your doctor makes several small incisions. Then, your doctor uses special tools to perform the operation.
As you recover after the laparoscopic surgery, you will feel less pain. You may have to stay in the hospital, then you shall be able to return to normal life. Most people do not even need any more treatment after surgery.
If your doctor considers that the surgery will not work for you, you can try other treatments to manage low blood sugar. You will likely be prescribed with medications and recommended to eat small, frequent meals throughout the day.
Treatment for Cancerous Insulinoma
Cancerous insulinomas are rare and require different treatments. If the tumor is not completely removed, you may need to take medication to prevent low blood sugar. You may also require chemotherapy.
Your doctor may suggest other treatment options, depending on the tumor you have. This treatment includes a radioactive drug called lutetium Lu 177 dotatate (Lutathera) – which will be given intravenously (IV). This prescription medicine uses radiation to kill tumor cells.
Treatment Cost for Insulinoma
Treatment cost for insulinoma depends on the diagnosis method used, medications prescribed, hospital fees, and your choice of internist.
For more details regarding the estimated treatment cost for insulinoma at home and abroad, contact Smarter Health.
You cannot completely prevent insulinoma. You should perform a medical check up for insulinoma if one of your family members has a genetic condition that increases the risk.
Insulinoma is not preventable, but you can lower your risk of developing hypoglycemia by exercising regularly and maintaining a healthy diet.
Be sure to include fruits, vegetables, and lean proteins in your daily meals. You can also maintain your pancreas’ health by cutting down on red meat consumption and quitting smoking.
Home Remedies for Insulinoma
During your treatment at home, be sure to take the medications as prescribed by your doctor. You should not change your dose without your doctor’s approval.
If the tumor is removed, people with insulinoma have a long-term outlook. After surgery, most people will recover completely without complications. However, insulinomas may return in the future. Recurrence is more common in people who have multiple tumors.
A small number of people may develop diabetes after surgery. This usually only occurs when the entire pancreas or a large portion of the pancreas is removed.
Complications are more likely in people with cancerous insulinomas, especially when the tumors have spread to other organs. Fortunately, only a small number of insulinomas are cancerous.
Your surgeon may not be able to remove all tumors completely. In this case, more follow-up treatment will be necessary.
Consult an internist at home or abroad through Smarter Health if you have symptoms of insulinoma or experience a recurrence.
Smarter Health‘s online consultation (teleconsultation) service allows you to seek treatment whenever you need it without having to leave the house – thus minimizing the spread of COVID-19.