Endocrine Pathology

, Volume 25, Issue 1, pp 65–79 | Cite as

Neuroendocrine Tumors of the Pancreas: Current Concepts and Controversies

  • Michelle D. Reid
  • Serdar Balci
  • Burcu Saka
  • N. Volkan AdsayEmail author


In the past decade, the clinico-pathologic characteristics of neuroendocrine tumors (NETs) in the pancreas have been further elucidated. Previously termed “islet cell tumors/carcinomas” or “endocrine neoplasms”, they are now called pancreatic NETs (PanNETs). They occur in relatively younger patients and may arise anywhere in the pancreas. Some are associated with von Hippel–Lindau, MEN1, and other syndromes. It is now widely recognized that, with the exception of tumorlets (minute incipient neoplasms) that occur in some syndromes like MEN1, all PanNETs are malignant, albeit low-grade, and although they have a protracted clinical course and overall 10-year survival of 60–70 %, even low-stage and low-grade examples may recur and/or metastasize on long-term follow-up. Per recent consensus guidelines adopted by both European and North American NET Societies (ENETS and NANETs) and WHO-2010, PanNETs are now graded and staged separately, unlike previous classification schemes that used a combination of grade, stage, and adjunct prognosticators in an attempt to define “benign behavior” or “malignant” categories. For staging, the ENETs proposal may be more applicable than CAP/AJCC, which is based on the staging of exocrine tumors. Current grading of PanNETs is based on mitotic activity and ki-67 index. Other promising prognosticators such as necrosis, CK19, c-kit, and others are still under investigation. It has also been recognized that PanNETs have a rather wide morphologic repertoire including oncocytic, pleomorphic, ductulo-insular, sclerosing, and lipid-rich variants. Most PanNETs are diagnosed by fine needle aspiration biopsy, in which single, monotonous plasmacytoid cells with fair amounts of cytoplasm and distinctive neuroendocrine chromatin are diagnostic. Molecular alterations of PanNETs are also very different than that of ductal or acinar tumors. Loss of expression of DAXX and ATRX proteins has been recently identified in 45 %. Along with these improvements, several controversies remain, including grading, value of current cutoff ranges, and the best methods for counting ki-67 index (manual count by computer-captured image may be the most practical for the time being). More important is the controversial use of the term “carcinoma”, which was previously employed in WHO-2004 only for invasive and metastatic cases but has now been made synonymous with grade 3 group of tumors. It is becoming clear that grade 3 group comprises two distinct categories: (1) differentiated but proliferatively more active tumors which typically have ki-67 indices in the 20–50 % range and (2) true poorly differentiated NE carcinomas as defined in the lung, with ki-67 typically >50 %. Further studies are needed to address these controversial aspects of PanNETs.


Pancreas Neuroendocrine tumor WDNET PDNEC 


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • Michelle D. Reid
    • 1
  • Serdar Balci
    • 1
  • Burcu Saka
    • 1
  • N. Volkan Adsay
    • 1
    • 2
    Email author
  1. 1.Department of PathologyEmory University School of MedicineAtlantaUSA
  2. 2.Department of PathologyEmory University HospitalAtlantaUSA

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