How an Insulinoma Is Treated

Insulinoma is a small tumor that forms in the pancreas and usually is benign (noncancerous). The tumor releases extra insulin, which can cause blood sugar levels to drop to dangerously low levels.

Typically, the best treatment for insulinoma is to have the tumor surgically removed. There are other options for insulinomas that are not treatable with surgery, including medications. Over-the-counter and home remedies may also be recommended to help manage the symptoms of low blood sugar.

This article will review the various ways that healthcare providers will manage and treat insulinomas.

Wife comforting a surgical patient

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Home Remedies and Lifestyle

There are no home treatments to eliminate an insulinoma. However, it’s important to know how to manage the symptoms of insulinoma at home. Insulin released by the insulinoma tumor can cause low blood sugar, or hypoglycemia.

Signs of low blood sugar include:

  • Shaking or tremors
  • Sweating
  • Feeling tired
  • Feeling dizzy or lightheaded
  • Mood changes or irritability

If you notice the signs of low blood sugar, eat or drink something with sugar such as orange juice, because simple sugar is more rapidly absorbed into the blood than complex carbohydrates.

Try carrying a juice box or fruit snacks with you when you're out and keeping other simple carbs or sweets on hand at home to grab and eat or drink when you start to feel the symptoms of low blood sugar. These sugary snacks will help bring your blood sugar back to a healthy range quickly.

Talk with your healthcare provider if you regularly experience low blood sugar levels. They’ll help you find the cause of your symptoms. Your healthcare team may recommend dietary changes to help keep your blood sugar stable and prevent levels from dipping too low.

Over-the-Counter (OTC) Remedies

Sometimes it may be challenging to bring a snack with you on the go, so another option to raise your blood sugar quickly is glucose tabs. These tablets are available over the counter at drugstores. Glucose tabs often come as chewable tablets made of sugar (glucose).

The tabs are fast acting and quickly absorbed to bring blood sugar levels up to a healthy level. Talk with your healthcare provider about whether glucose tablets are a good option for you.

Surgeries and Specialist-Driven Procedures

The best way to treat an insulinoma is with surgery to remove the tumor. Most people’s symptoms will fully resolve once the tumor is removed.

The type of surgery recommended depends on the type, size, and location of the tumor. Your healthcare provider may recommend a partial resection of your pancreas (in which just the tumor and some surrounding pancreatic tissue are removed), or you may need your entire pancreas removed.

One of the more common surgical procedures for insulinomas is a laparoscopic partial resection. This minimally invasive procedure involves removing the tumor through small cuts, or incisions, while using a laparoscope, a thin fiber-optic tube containing a light and camera, as well as surgical tools.

People tend to have fewer complications and a shorter hospital stay with this type of procedure than with open surgery.

What Is a Laparoscopic Resection?

During this procedure, a surgeon creates small incisions around the abdomen. Then a laparoscope is inserted through an incision. The camera displays images on screens in the operating room, allowing your healthcare team to see inside your abdomen.

The surgeon will use the laparoscope to locate the tumor, then use surgical instruments that are inserted into the stomach via other small incisions to remove the tumor and surrounding tissue.

In rare cases, if the tumor has spread, you may need to have the entire pancreas removed or resections (removal of tumors) in other areas, such as your liver or intestine.

Prescriptions

Some people may not be eligible for surgery if surgery is deemed too risky due to other health issues or age. Others may choose not to have surgery.

Patients who do not have surgery may be prescribed a medication called Proglycem (diazoxide) to help manage their insulinoma symptoms. This medication doesn’t eliminate the insulinoma, but it can help counteract the effects of the excess insulin produced by the tumor.

Proglycem works to decrease the amount of insulin released by the tumor and the pancreas. It’s estimated about 60% of people taking diazoxide become symptom free.

Complications

While it’s not common for an insulinoma tumor to be cancerous, about 10% of cases are. Malignant (cancerous) insulinomas often require additional medical treatment to target and kill the cancer cells.

Treatment options for malignant insulinomas include:

  • Chemotherapy: This medication, available in a pill to be swallowed or taken through an intravenous drip (IV, through a vein), works to destroy cancer cells. This helps prevent cancer from spreading to other parts of the body and shrinks the tumor size. Chemotherapy can also harm normal cells and lead to side effects like fatigue, bruising, weakness, nausea, tingling, sore mouth, and achy muscles.
  • Radiofrequency ablation: This therapy uses electrical currents to heat up a part of the body. This can be used to target and kill cancer cells. Side effects may include discomfort, burning pain, and sensitivity around the area where the procedure was performed.
  • Chemoembolization: In this procedure, blood flow is blocked off from a tumor, cutting off its supply of nutrients, effectively starving it. Typically, this is done after an anticancer medication has been given. Chemoembolization may help to reduce the size of an insulinoma. Side effects may include low-grade fever, nausea, vomiting, fatigue, bruising, hair loss, poor appetite, and blood clots.

A Word From Verywell

Being diagnosed with an insulinoma can be a scary time, but fortunately, most cases are very treatable. Typically, insulinoma symptoms will completely resolve after the tumor is surgically removed.

There are other options available if you don't have surgery or if the insulinoma has spread to other areas of your body. Medications may help manage the symptoms. For malignant insulinomas, treatments may help shrink the tumor and prevent cancer from spreading.

Talk with your healthcare provider to discuss which treatment option is best for you. A doctor can help answer your questions, and help you find the support and care you need as you go through this journey.

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4 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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