Although malignant islet-cell tumors are uncommon, they are an important group of pancreatic neoplasms because appropriate treatment can often result in effective palliation even though cure is infrequent. In general, these tumors are relatively slow growing so that a combination of surgical and chemotherapeutic measures may prove very beneficial. In some patients with tumors hypersecreting insulin, gastrin, glucagon, or vasoactive intestinal polypeptide (VIP), the hormonal effects of the neoplasm can be life-threatening. Surgical treatment must, therefore, consider both the functional and malignant characteristics of the individual tumor. In many patients with functional tumors, surgical debulking of the primary tumor may be indicated even when a curative resection cannot be accomplished. Some malignancies may be cured by an appropriate pancreatic resection even when peripancreatic lymph nodes are already involved. Although a Whipple procedure is not indicated when hepatic metastases are present, this procedure may cure tumors localized to the pancreatic head and/or peripancreatic lymph nodes. Because hepatic metastases are usually multiple and involve both lobes, liver resections, other than wedge excisions of peripherally located functional metastases, are not indicated. Malignant nonfunctioning islet-cell tumors are probably best treated with systemic or regional chemotherapy when metastatic. Surgical resections or bypass procedures may be infrequently useful in those cases in which the primary tumor causes either duodenal or bile duct obstruction. The most effective methods used to control hepatic metastases are systemic and hepatic arterial chemotherapy. An alternative is selective hepatic artery embolization. Recently, an implantable hepatic arterial infusion pump has been used with encouraging results in this group of patients. The chemotherapeutic agents that have been most effective in the treatment of hepatic metastases include streptozotocin, DTIC, and fluorouracil.
ASJC Scopus subject areas