iCliniq logo

Ask a Doctor Online Now

HomeHealth articlesneuroendocrine tumorWhat Is Gastrinoma?

Gastrinoma - Classification, Symptoms, Causes and, Treatment

Verified dataVerified data
Gastrinoma - Classification, Symptoms, Causes and, Treatment

4 min read


Gastrinomas are neuroendocrine tumors, malignant in nature, causing excess gastric acid secretion. Complications and treatment are explained in the article.

Medically reviewed by

Dr. Mian Shah Yousaf

Published At July 19, 2022
Reviewed AtDecember 8, 2022

Introduction: Gastrinomas are tumors of neuroendocrine origin, which means they arise from cells with traits similar to both nerve cells and hormone-producing cells. Gastrinomas are slow-growing tumors, but in approximately 60 % of cases, they metastasize and become malignant at diagnosis. There is excessive secretion of gastrin (a hormone that stimulates the secretion of HCL by the parietal cells of the stomach), leading to diarrhea and severe peptic ulcer diseases. Zollinger-Ellison syndrome is when one or more gastrinomas form in the duodenum (upper part of the small intestine) or pancreas and produce an excess of acid.

What Are the Causes of Gastrinomas?

Gastrinomas originate from endodermal pluripotent cells. They can be of two types:

  • Irregular and haphazard in 75 % to 80 % of cases.

  • Associated with multiple endocrine neoplasia type-1 (MEN-1). It is a hereditary disorder associated with endocrine gland tumors. It occurs due to mutation in the tumor suppressor MEN-1 gene on chromosome 11q13.

In Which Parts of the Body Gastrinoma Can Occur?

1. About 80 % to 90 % of cases arise in the ‘gastrinoma triangle.’ It is an anatomical area in the abdomen with the following boundaries:

  • Superior: The collaboration of cystic ducts and common bile ducts.
  • Inferior: Portions of the duodenum.
  • Medial: The neck of the pancreas.

2. Gastrinoma can rarely occur in peripancreatic lymph nodes, liver, stomach, bile ducts, ovary, and lungs.

3. Duodenal gastrinomas occur predominantly in the first part of the duodenum and are approximately 50 % to 80 % associated with sporadic ZES (Zollinger-Ellison syndrome) and almost 70 % to 100 % linked with MEN-1 (multiple endocrine neoplasias). The size of gastrinoma is less than 1 cm.

4. Pancreatic gastrinomas can occur in any portion of the pancreas. These tumors are larger than duodenum gastrinomas and comprise approximately 25 % of tumors.

How Does Gastrinoma Damage Different Cells and Organs?

  • The gastrinoma malignant cells stimulate secretion of gastrin which causes hyperplasia of fundic parietal cells and eventually increases gastric acid secretion.

  • HCL (gastric acid) secretion ruptures the mucosal defenses of the gastric and duodenal wall, causing ulcerations. It also causes malabsorption of fat and diarrhea due to the inactivation of pancreatic digestive enzymes.

  • The diarrhea is caused due to inhibition in the absorption of sodium and water by the small intestine.

How Do Gastrinoma Cells Appear?

  • Matured neuroendocrine tumor cells show an organoid arrangement with trabecular, pyriform, or nesting patterns. The tumor cells are round with regular nuclei and produce large amounts of secretory granules with diffused immunoexpression of neuroendocrine markers.

  • Immature and poorly differentiated NET (neuroendocrine tumors) have sheet-like, irregular, and diffused nuclei with limited biomarkers immunoexpression.

What Is the WHO Classification of Gastrinomas?

The WHO (World Health Organization) classified (in 2010) neuroendocrine tumors, including gastrinomas, into three grades depending on the mitotic rate:

  • Low-grade, well-differentiated tumors with uncertain nature at the time of diagnosis. It can be benign with a mitotic rate of less than 2.

  • Well-differentiated carcinoma with low-level malignant behavior with a mitotic rate of 2 to 20.

  • High-grade, poorly differentiated endocrine tumors with high-grade malignant nature with a mitotic rate of more than 20.

What Are the Symptoms of Gastrinomas?

The most common symptoms are chronic (from a long duration) diarrhea and abdominal pain.

  • Dyspepsia: Pain or discomfort in the upper abdomen, often after eating or drinking.

  • Gastrointestinal Bleeding: Bleeding from the gastrointestinal tract lining due to ulcerations.

  • Gastroesophageal Reflux: Excessive gastric acid in the stomach can lead to acid reflexes.

  • Weight Loss: Due to chronic diarrhea and altered digestion.

How to Diagnose Gastrinoma?

  • Serum Gastrin Concentration: Elevated fasting serum gastrin concentration is associated with increased gastric secretion leading to low pH.

  • Chromogranin A: It is an immunostaining biomarker used to diagnose neuroendocrine tumors. It should be measured during fasting, and any kind of heavy physical activity or exercise should be avoided before testing.

  • Computed tomography (CT) scan, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), somatostatin receptor scintigraphy with SPECT/CT, and gallium-somatostatin analogs PET-CT imaging are non-invasive imaging procedures that can help localize the tumor and evaluate the metastatic spread.

  • In some cases, tumors can only be localized by laparotomy and direct palpation by the surgeon or intraoperative ultrasound.

  • All cases with ZES (Zollinger- Ellison syndrome) will require proper family history and biochemical assessment such as parathyroid hormone levels, prolactin, and serum calcium levels.

What Is the Treatment of Gastrinoma?

  • The medical approach is only helpful in preventing complications and treating the symptoms of peptic ulcer disease. The use of proton pump inhibitors at high doses is preferred as it has a higher potency than H2 receptors and a prolonged duration of action.

  • Surgery is the treatment of choice for gastrinomas. All cases of sporadic gastrinoma without metastasis are suggested for surgery.

  • However, cases of MEN-1 (multiple endocrine neoplasia-1) associated with ZES (Zollinger- Ellison syndrome) are referred to as medical therapy due to the multiplicity and metastasis nature of the tumor and a low chance of surgical cure. Surgical resection is recommended only for cases of MEN-1 with gastrinoma more than 2 cm in size.

  • Chemotherapy is an option in cases of metastasis. The first-line treatment is a combined therapy with 5-Fluorouracil or Doxorubicin and Streptozotocin. These drugs show some limited results in some cases but are toxic in nature.

  • Octreotide and Lanreotide are some human somatostatin analogs that can decrease gastric acid secretion but do not show any effect on tumors.

  • In cases of pancreatic neuroendocrine tumors, therapies like multi-kinase, mTOR inhibitor, and antiangiogenic strategies can specifically inhibit growth factor receptors. These are new approaches showing some clinical benefits in trials.

  • Other treatment procedures can be hepatic artery embolization in cases of liver metastasis.

Which Conditions Are Similar to Gastrinoma?

  • Gastric Outlet Obstruction: It is a syndrome characterized by postprandial vomiting and abdominal pain in the epigastric region due to mechanical obstruction.

  • Atrophic Gastritis: Chronic inflammation of gastric mucosa with replacement of gastric glandular cells with fibrous tissue and intestinal-type epithelium.

  • Peptic Ulcer Diseases: Open sores on the inner lining of the stomach and duodenum.


Gastrinoma is a neuroendocrine tumor that can become malignant if not diagnosed on time. It affects the absorption of water and sodium ions leading to chronic diarrhea (one of the common symptoms). Other signs can be gastrointestinal bleeding and abdominal pain. If the tumor shows metastasis, it can affect adjacent organs like the pancreas, liver, or intestines and cause more complications. The treatment of choice for the tumor is surgery, and however medical therapy can help to control the symptoms.

Frequently Asked Questions


Can Gastrinoma Be Seen on CT Scan?

Tumors more than 3 cm in size can be traced easily on computed tomography. Tumors smaller than this diameter are not easy to locate.


Why Does Gastrinoma Cause Diarrhea?

Gastrinoma leads to the secretion of large amounts of gastrin which leads to increased acidic levels in the stomach leading to peptic ulcers and diarrhea.


Is Gastrinoma Fatal?

Gastrinomas are not fatal if they are not malignant in nature. Malignancy means they grow and develop into cancer.


Are Gastrinomas Cancerous?

Yes, gastrinoma has the potential to develop into cancerous tumors and get fatal in nature.


How Common Is Gastrinoma?

Gastrinomas are considered the most common functional pancreatic endocrine tumors, which can be malignant in nature.


Are Gastrinomas Painful?

As the tumor leads to an increase in stomach acidity, it also causes ulcers which cause abdominal pain.


Where Are Gastrinomas Located?

Gastrinomas are ulcers of the endocrine part of the pancreas as they lead to the secretion of excessive gastrin hormone.


When Should You Suspect Gastrinoma?

Patients with recurrent stomach and intestinal ulcers can be evaluated for having gastrinoma.


Can Gastrinoma Be Cured?

Surgery is the treatment of choice for gastrinoma, and it can only help it to cure. No other treatment options work on the tumor as it gets resistant.


What Is the Normal Level for Gastrin?

The normal value of gastrin is less than 100 pg/mL in the body.


What Happens When Too Much Gastrin Is Produced?

Production of excess gastrin leads to excess secretion of stomach acid and thus peptic ulcers.


Is Gastrinoma a Neuroendocrine Tumor?

Yes, gastrinoma is a neuroendocrine tumor because it secretes excessive gastrin hormone on the basis of signals from the brain.
Source Article IclonSourcesSource Article Arrow
Dr. Mian Shah Yousaf
Dr. Mian Shah Yousaf

Medical Gastroenterology


gastrinomaneuroendocrine tumor
Community Banner Mobile
By subscribing, I agree to iCliniq's Terms & Privacy Policy.

Source Article ArrowMost popular articles

Ask your health query to a doctor online

Medical Gastroenterology

*guaranteed answer within 4 hours

Disclaimer: No content published on this website is intended to be a substitute for professional medical diagnosis, advice or treatment by a trained physician. Seek advice from your physician or other qualified healthcare providers with questions you may have regarding your symptoms and medical condition for a complete medical diagnosis. Do not delay or disregard seeking professional medical advice because of something you have read on this website. Read our Editorial Process to know how we create content for health articles and queries.

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. iCliniq privacy policy