Islet cell cancer care at Mayo Clinic

Mayo Clinic doctors have experience diagnosing and treating islet cell cancers, which are very rare. They use this experience to develop a personalized treatment plan that provides you with exactly the care you need.

Diagnosis at Mayo Clinic

Tests and procedures used to diagnose islet cell cancer include:

  • Blood tests. Blood tests may reveal excess hormones or other signs of an islet cell cancer.
  • Urine tests. Analysis of your urine may reveal breakdown products that result when your body processes hormones.
  • Imaging tests. Imaging tests help your doctor look for abnormalities in your pancreas, such as islet cell cancer.

    Imaging tests may include ultrasound, computerized tomography (CT), magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and somatostatin receptor scintigraphy, which uses a radioactive hormone that is taken up by islet cell cancers.

  • Endoscopy. During endoscopy, a thin tube with a camera on the end is passed down your throat and into your stomach and small intestine. Special tools can be passed through the tube to collect a tissue sample (biopsy).

    Endoscopy can be combined with imaging tests, such as ultrasound (endoscopic ultrasound) and X-ray (endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography).

  • Surgery. In some cases, your doctor may recommend minimally invasive surgery to obtain a tissue sample for testing. During laparoscopy, the surgeon makes several small incisions in your abdomen, through which special tools and a tiny camera are inserted. The surgeon then looks for signs of cancer and may collect a tissue sample.
  • Biopsy. If cancer has spread to your liver, lymph nodes or other locations, a needle may be used to collect cells for analysis.

Treatment at Mayo Clinic

Treatment for islet cell cancer varies based on the types of cells involved in your cancer, the extent of your cancer, your preferences and your overall health. Options may include:

  • Surgery. If islet cell cancer is confined to the pancreas, treatment usually includes surgery. For cancer that occurs in the tail of the pancreas, surgery may involve removing the tail of the pancreas (distal pancreatectomy), leaving the head portion intact. Cancer that affects the head of the pancreas may require a Whipple procedure (pancreatoduodenectomy), which involves removing the cancer and part or most of your pancreas.
  • Targeted therapy. Targeted therapy uses medications that are specially designed to target certain cancer cells. Targeted therapy is used to treat certain advanced or recurrent islet cell cancers. Targeted therapy is a type of biological therapy for cancer.
  • Radiofrequency ablation. Radiofrequency ablation involves applying energy waves to cancer cells, causing them to heat up and die.
  • Treatment for cancer that spreads to the liver. Islet cell cancer most often spreads to the liver and several treatments exist for this. Options include treatment to block blood flow to liver tumors (hepatic artery occlusion), treatment to deliver chemotherapy directly to the liver (chemoembolization), treatment to deliver radiation directly to the liver (radioembolization) and liver transplant.
  • Chemotherapy. In certain situations, your doctor may recommend chemotherapy.