What is glucagonoma?

With just one out of 20 million people developing this condition every year, Glucagonoma is a very rare disease. This condition describes a tumor that grows in your pancreas. That's the organ that helps your body digest food. A glucagonoma grows because your body has too much of a hormone called glucagon. This hormone works with insulin to control your blood sugar. The symptoms of this condition can be painful and even life-threatening. 

Causes of glucagonoma

Doctors and researchers don't know exactly what causes glucagonoma. However, they've identified some risk factors that may increase your chances of having this condition.

Risk factors for glucagonoma

People who have family members with a syndrome called multiple endocrine neoplasia type 1 (MEN I) are at greater risk for getting glucagonoma. Researchers are still doing studies to learn more about these rare conditions. Research published in a medical journal called Oncology Letters shows that women get this condition slightly more often than men. Doctors tend to diagnose it in patients in their early 50s.

Symptoms of glucagonoma

The most noticeable symptom of this condition is a skin rash. It happens to about 70% of patients. It begins as red lumps around your genitals or abdomen. It blisters and starts to spread. This rash is itchy and painful.

Other symptoms of glucagonoma include:

  • Depression
  • Weight loss
  • The onset of diabetes
  • A red, cracking inflammation of the lips called cheilitis

Diagnosis of glucagonoma

This condition is very rare. But it's somewhat simple to diagnose with a blood test. Your doctor will do a physical exam first. They'll review your medical history. This helps them determine if other health conditions could cause your symptoms. With the blood test, the doctor looks for high levels of the hormone glucagon. If this is present, along with some other abnormal levels, your doctor may order a CT scan. This test shows the doctor the inside of your body. They can look for tumors in your abdomen. Unfortunately, it takes time for symptoms to appear. Sometimes, when tumors are found, they're quite large. Almost two-thirds of these types of tumors are cancerous, notes Healthline.

Treatments for glucagonoma

The first step to treatment of glucagonoma is to stabilize your conditions. That way, you can be healthy enough for surgery. You may need to have nutritional supplements to gain weight. These can also stabilize your blood sugar. There are creams available to treat your rash.

Your doctor might give you medications that thin your blood. They can reduce the risk of blood clots in your legs, which is a common complication of this condition. Surgery to remove your tumor, followed by chemotherapy, is usually necessary to treat this condition. However, this kind of tumor doesn't respond well to chemotherapy. That treatment involves taking strong medications that can stop the tumor cells from growing.

Many people can complete their treatment and reverse their symptoms. This can be a difficult process. Because glucagonoma is so rare, doctors don't know much about it. More research is happening to improve treatment and outcomes.

Recovery from glucagonoma

Glucagonoma can be cancerous. The cancer can spread to other organs. You may need chemotherapy and radiation treatments to kill the cancer cells. Talk directly with your doctor about your long-term health outlook. During this time, it's important to maintain a healthy diet. Try to find support from loved ones. Attending support group meetings can also help you manage your emotions. It can be challenging to endure the different treatments.

About 55% of patients who've had glucagonoma treatment live for five years or longer. The outlook may not be as positive if doctors didn't discover your tumor very early on. Get in touch with your doctor right away if you start noticing symptoms.

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