What is Glucagonoma?
The pancreas is an organ that produces enzymes to aid in the digestion of food. The pancreas has two primary functions, endocrine—in charge of processes like metabolism, growth, tissue function, reproduction, sleep, and mood—and exocrine, which is in charge of processes like sweating, salivating, and creating mucus. Pancreatic tumors are categorized by which function they affect: the endocrine tumors impact cells that produce hormones while the exocrine tumors impact cells that produce digestive enzymes.Glucagonoma is a cancer of the pancreas that can manifest in two types—exocrine, affecting the digestive enzymes, or endocrine, affecting hormone-production. Symptoms vary depending on the type of cancer, but may include pain, vomiting, weight loss, ulcers, confusion, and weakness. While surgical removal functions as a treatment for pancreatic cancer, the life expectancy for a dog with this condition is low.
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Symptoms of Glucagonoma in Dogs
Whether the tumor affects the exocrine or endocrine function influences the systems that appear.
- Exocrine – dealing with digestive enzymes
- Loss of weight
- Abdominal mass
- Blockage of the intestine
- Endocrine – dealing with hormone-producing cells
- Low blood sugar
Pancreatic tumors are identified by whether or not they are cancerous and the specific pancreatic functions they impact.
- Pancreatic adenomas are benign tumors found in the pancreas.
- Pancreatic carcinomas are cancerous tumors found in the pancreas.
- Exocrine carcinomas impact digestive enzymes. They quickly spread to the lining of the stomach, liver, and other organs.
- Endocrine carcinomas impact hormone-producing cells. These tumors affect other parts of the body by influence hormone production. They may spread quickly to the liver and lymph nodes.
Causes of Glucagonoma in Dogs
As with many forms of cancer, there is no definitive cause for pancreatic cancer. It is believed that there is a genetic component to the likelihood of this cancer occurring, supported by some breeds having more occurrences of pancreatic cancer over other breeds. There are some apparent similarities in multiple cases of specific types. For example, pancreatic nodular hyperplasia sometimes occurs after an injury.
Diagnosis of Glucagonoma in Dogs
Sometimes the tumor is large enough that it can be detected through a physical exam. X-rays and ultrasounds will help to identify the presence of a tumor. However these techniques are unable to determine if the tumor is cancerous. Special blood tests that measure levels of endocrine hormones may be helpful in diagnosing endocrine tumors. For exocrine cancer, however, there is not a specific blood test that will identify the tumor as cancerous. Ultimately, to determine if the tumor is cancerous requires an abdominal operation and a biopsy of the tumor’s tissue.
Treatment of Glucagonoma in Dogs
- Exocrine carcinomas: Because they grow and spread rapidly, exocrine tumors are rarely discovered early enough for any treatment attempts to be successful.
- Endocrine carcinomas: Symptoms can be relieved by treating the excess of the hormone being produced. Surgery is required to remove the tumor, but there is a high chance of remission. Typically, dogs with endocrine pancreatic carcinomas are less than a year, but could extend to anywhere from 16-18 months. An alternative involves completely removing the pancreas and administering continuing hormone replacement. This typically requires the dog being fed through an IV due to the loss of the exocrine function’s digestive enzymes. For this as well, life expectancy is short.
Recovery of Glucagonoma in Dogs
Post-surgery you will need to care for the surgical site. This requires keeping the site clean and not allowing your dog to mess with it. Pay attention for any significant swelling, bleeding, or loss of stitches. It’s possible that the veterinarian will ask you to check that your dog is able to urinate and defecate or receive medicine to aid with this process. Special diet or medical supplements may be required. If the pancreas is removed, hormone replacement and intravenous feeding will likely have to occur.