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Open access

Seong Keat Cheah, David Halsall, Peter Barker, John Grant, Abraham Mathews, Shyam Seshadri and Singhan Krishnan

Summary

A frail 79-year-old lady with dementia presented with a 2-year history of frequent falls. Recurrent hypoglycaemic episodes were diagnosed and treated with continuous glucose infusion in multiple hospital admissions. Hypoadrenalism and hypothyroidism were ruled out. Whilst hypoglycaemic (blood glucose 1.6 mmol/L), both plasma C-peptide and proinsulin concentrations, were inappropriately elevated at 4210 pmol/L (174–960) and >200 pmol/L (0–7) respectively with plasma insulin suppressed at 12 pmol/L (0–180). Whilst reported cases of proinsulinoma are typically pancreatic in origin, radiological investigations of the pancreas in this patient did not identify abnormalities. Unexpectedly contrast CT identified a heterogeneously enhancing mass (6.6 cm) at the lower pole of the left kidney consistent with renal cell carcinoma. Non-islet cell tumour-induced hypoglycaemia has been associated with renal malignancy; however, a serum IGF2:IGF1 ratio measured at <10 effectively excludes this diagnosis. Concomitantly on the CT, extensive peripherally enhancing heterogeneous mass lesions in the liver were identified, the largest measuring 12 cm. A palliative approach was taken due to multiple comorbidities. On post-mortem, the kidney lesion was confirmed as clear cell renal carcinoma, whilst the liver lesions were identified as proinsulin-secreting neuroendocrine tumours. In conclusion, the diagnosis of proinsulinoma can be missed if plasma proinsulin concentration is not measured at the time of hypoglycaemia. In this case, the plasma insulin:C-peptide ratio was too high to be accounted for by the faster relative clearance of insulin and was due to proinsulin cross-reactivity in the C-peptide assay. In addition, the concomitant malignancy proved to be a challenging red herring.

Learning points:

  • Even in non-diabetics, hypoglycaemia needs to be excluded in a setting of frequent falls. Insulin- or proinsulin-secreting tumours are potentially curable causes.

  • Whilst investigating spontaneous hypoglycaemia, if plasma insulin concentration is appropriate for the hypoglycaemia, it is prudent to check proinsulin concentrations during the hypoglycaemic episode.

  • Proinsulin cross-reacts variably with C-peptide and insulin assays; the effect is method dependent. In this case, the discrepancy between the insulin and C-peptide concentrations was too great to be accounted for by the faster relative clearance of insulin, raising the suspicion of assay interference. The C-peptide assay in question (Diasorin liaison) has been shown to be 100% cross reactive with proinsulin based on spiking studies with a proinsulin reference preparation.

  • Whilst reported cases of proinsulinoma and 99% of insulinomas are of pancreatic origin, conventional imaging studies (CT, MRI or ultrasound) fail to detect neuroendocrine tumours <1 cm in 50% of cases.

  • The concomitant renal mass identified radiologically proved to be a red herring.

  • In view of the rarity of proinsulinoma, no conclusive association with renal cell carcinoma can be established.

Open access

Sarah Y Qian, Matthew J L Hare, Alan Pham and Duncan J Topliss

Summary

Insulinomas are rare neuroendocrine tumours that classically present with fasting hypoglycaemia. This case report discusses an uncommon and challenging case of insulinoma soon after upper gastrointestinal surgery. A 63-year-old man presented with 6 months of post-prandial hypoglycaemia beginning after a laparoscopic revision of Toupet fundoplication. Hyperinsulinaemic hypoglycaemia was confirmed during a spontaneous episode and in a mixed-meal test. Localisation studies including magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), endoscopic ultrasound (EUS) and gallium dotatate positron emission tomography (68Ga Dotatate PET) were consistent with a small insulinoma in the mid-body of the pancreas. The lesion was excised and histopathology was confirmed a localised well-differentiated neuroendocrine pancreatic neoplasm. There have been no significant episodes of hypoglycaemia since. This case highlights several key points. Insulinoma should be sought in proven post-prandial hyperinsulinaemic hypoglycaemia – even in the absence of fasting hypoglycaemia. The use of nuclear imaging targeting somatostatin and GLP1 receptors has improved accuracy of localisation. Despite these advances, accurate surgical resection can remain challenging.

Learning points:

  • Hypoglycaemia is defined by Whipple’s triad and can be provoked by fasting or mixed-meal tests.

  • Although uncommon, insulinomas can present with post-prandial hypoglycaemia.

  • In hypoglycaemia following gastrointestinal surgery (i.e. bariatric surgery or less commonly Nissen fundoplication) dumping syndrome or non-insulinoma pancreatogenous hypoglycaemia syndrome (NIPHS) should be considered.

  • Improved imaging techniques including MRI, endoscopic ultrasound and functional nuclear medicine scans aid localisation of insulinomas.

  • Despite advances in imaging and surgical techniques, accurate resection of insulinomas remains challenging.

Open access

Yasutaka Takeda, Yukihiro Fujita, Kentaro Sakai, Tomoe Abe, Tomonobu Nakamura, Tsuyoshi Yanagimachi, Hidemitsu Sakagami, Jun Honjo, Atsuko Abiko, Yuichi Makino and Masakazu Haneda

Summary

MEN1-associated pancreatic neuroendocrine tumors (pNETs) may potentially express distinct hormones, but the mechanism has not been elucidated. Transcription factors such as MafA and Pdx1 have been identified to lead to beta cell differentiation, while Arx and Brn4 to alpha cell differentiation in developing pancreas. We hypothesized those transcription factors are important to produce specific hormones in pNETs, similarly to developing pancreas, and examined the expression of transcription factors in a case of MEN1 who showed immunohistological coexistence of several hormone-producing pNETs including insulinoma. A 70-year-old woman was found to manifest hypoglycemia with non-suppressed insulinemia and hypercalcemia with elevated PTH level. She was diagnosed as MEN1 based on the manifestation of primary hyperparathyroidism, pituitary adenoma and insulinoma, with genetic variation of MEN1 gene. She had pylorus-preserving pancreaticoduodenectomy because CT scan and SACI test indicated that insulinoma was localized in the head of the pancreas. Histopathological finding was MEN1-associated NET, G1. Interestingly, immunohistological examination of the resected pancreas revealed that two insulinomas, a glucagon-positive NET and a multiple hormone-positive NET coexisted. Hence, we examined the expression of transcription factors immunohistochemically to elucidate the role of the transcription factors in MEN1-associated hormone-producing pNETs. We observed homogeneous expressions of MafA and Pdx1 in insulinomas and Arx in glucagon-positive NET, respectively. Moreover, multiple hormone-positive NETs expressed several transcription factors heterogeneously. Collectively, our results suggested that transcription factors could play important roles in the production of specific hormones in MEN1-associated pNETs, similar to islet differentiation.

Learning points:

  • To date, it has been shown that different hormone-producing tumors coexist in MEN1-associated pNETs; however, the underlying mechanism of the hormone production in MEN1-associated pNETs has not been well elucidated.

  • Although this case presented symptomatic hypoglycemia, several hormone-producing pNETs other than insulinoma also coexisted in the pancreas.

  • Immunohistochemical analysis showed MafA and Pdx1 expressions distinctly in insulinoma, and Arx expression particularly in a glucagon-positive NET, while a multiple hormone-positive NET expressed MafA, Pdx1 and Arx.

  • Collectively, clinicians should consider that several hormone-producing pNETs may coexist in a MEN1 case and examine both endocrinological and histopathological analysis of pNETs, regardless of whether symptoms related to the excess of hormones are observed or not.

Open access

Noman Ahmad, Abdulmonem Mohammed Almutawa, Mohamed Ziyad Abubacker, Hossam Ahmed Elzeftawy and Osama Abdullah Bawazir

Summary

An insulinoma is a rare tumour with an incidence of four cases per million per year in adults. The incidence in children is not established. There is limited literature available in children with insulinoma, and only one case is reported in association with Down’s syndrome in adults. Insulinoma diagnosis is frequently missed in adults as well as in children. The Whipple triad is the most striking feature although it has limited application in young children. Hypoglycaemia with elevated insulin, C-peptide and absent ketones is highly suggestive of hyperinsulinism. We present a case of 10-year-old boy with Down’s syndrome with recurrent insulinoma. He was initially misdiagnosed as having an adrenal insufficiency and developed cushingoid features and obesity secondary to hydrocortisone treatment and excessive sugar intake. The tumour was successfully localised in the head of the pancreas with an MRI and octreotide scan on first presentation. Medical treatment with diazoxide and octreotide could not achieve normal blood glucose levels. The insulinoma was laparoscopically enucleated and pathological examination confirmed a neuroendocrine tumour. Subsequently, he had complete resolution of symptoms. He had a recurrence after 2 years with frequent episodes of hypoglycaemia. The biochemical workup was suggestive of hyperinsulinism. MRI and PET scan confirmed the recurrence at the same site (head of the pancreas). He had an open laparotomy for insulinoma resection. The pathology was consistent with benign insulinoma, and subsequently, he had complete resolution of symptoms.

Learning points:

  • Insulinoma is a very rare tumour in children; it should be considered in the differential diagnosis of hypoglycaemia with absent ketones.

  • Refractory neurological symptoms like seizure, migraine, mood changes and regression of learning abilities should suggest evaluation for hypoglycaemia.

  • MRI with contrast and PET scan would localise the majority of pancreatic beta islet cell lesions.

  • Medical treatment with diazoxide, octreotide and the addition of corn starch in feeds is not curative but can be supportive to maintain normoglycemia until the surgical resection.

  • Surgical resection is the only curative treatment. The surgical procedure of choice (laparoscopic/open laparotomy) depends on local expertise, preoperative localisation, tumour size and number.

  • Surgical treatment results in complete resolution of symptoms, but all cases should be closely followed up to monitor for recurrence. The recurrence rate is four times higher in MEN1 cases.

Open access

Adriana de Sousa Lages, Isabel Paiva, Patrícia Oliveira, Francisco Portela and Francisco Carrilho

Summary

Insulinomas are the most frequent cause of hyperinsulinaemic hypoglycaemia. Although surgical enucleation is the standard treatment, a few other options are available to high-risk patients who are elderly or present with co-morbidities. We present a case report of an 89-year-old female patient who was admitted to the emergency department due to recurrent hypoglycaemia, especially during fasting. Laboratory work-up raised the suspicion of hyperinsulinaemic hypoglycaemia, and abdominal CT scan revealed a 12 mm nodular hypervascular lesion of the pancreatic body suggestive of neuroendocrine tumour. The patient was not considered a suitable candidate for surgery, and medical therapy with diazoxide was poorly tolerated. Endoscopic ultrasound-guided ethanol ablation therapy was performed and a total of 0.6 mL of 95% ethanol was injected into the lesion by a transgastric approach; no complications were reported after the procedure. At 5 months of follow-up, no episodes of hypoglycaemia were reported, no diazoxide therapy was necessary, and revaluation abdominal CT scan revealed a pancreatic nodular lesion with a size involution of about half of its original volume. The patient is regularly followed-up at the endocrinology clinic and shows a significant improvement in her wellbeing and quality of life.

Learning points:

  • Insulinomas are the most frequent cause of hyperinsulinaemic hypoglycaemia.

  • Surgical enucleation is the standard treatment with a few other options available to high-risk patients.

  • Endoscopic ultrasound-guided ethanol ablation therapy is one feasible option in high-risk patients with satisfactory clinical outcomes, significant positive impact on quality of life and low complication rates related to the procedure.

Open access

Chun-Han Lo and Ding-Ping Sun

Summary

Insulinomas are the most common cause of hypoglycemia resulting from endogenous hyperinsulinism. Traditionally, inappropriately elevated levels of insulin in the face of hypoglycemia are the key to diagnosis. However, contradictory levels of insulin and C-peptide do not necessarily exclude the diagnosis. A 50-year-old female was brought to our emergency department because of conscious disturbance on the previous night. She had no history of diabetes mellitus, and was not using any medications or alcohol. Laboratory data showed low sugar, a significantly low insulin level, and elevated C-peptide. After admission, she had multiple episodes of spontaneous hypoglycemia after overnight fasts without discomfort. It was considered that a neuroendocrine tumor was the source of her hypoglycemia. CT scan of the abdomen revealed a 1.1cm hypervascular nodule in the pancreatic tail. Elective laparoscopic distal pancreatectomy was incorporated into her treatment course. A 1.2×1.0cm homogenous well-encapsulated tumor was resected. We monitored her glucose levels in the outpatient clinic every month for a period of six months. She did not have another episode of spontaneous hypoglycemia.

Learning points

  • Insulinoma causes endogenous hypoglycemia – it cannot be ruled out in patients presenting with hypoglycemia and low insulin levels; history and imaging studies should be done for further assessment

  • A 24-h fast test has the same clinical significance as that of 72-h fast test

  • C-peptide is a useful biochemical marker in addition to serum insulin, which can be used to diagnose insulinomas

  • CT scan is used to measure the tumor size and localize the tumor. However, definitive diagnosis is only achieved through histopathologic evaluation of diseased tissue

Open access

Chiara Baratelli, Maria Pia Brizzi, Marco Tampellini, Giorgio Vittorio Scagliotti, Adriano Priola, Massimo Terzolo, Anna Pia and Alfredo Berruti

Summary

Insulinoma is a rare form of insulin-secreting pancreatic islet cell neuroendocrine (NE) tumor. The medical treatment of the malignant NE disease of the pancreas deeply changed in the last years, thanks to the introduction of new target molecules, as everolimus. Even if the exact mechanism is not actually known, one of the side effects of everolimus, hyperglycemia, has been demonstrated to be useful to contrast the typical hypoglycemia of the insulinoma. We report the case of a patient with a metastatic malignant insulinoma treated with intermittent everolimus, obtaining an important improvement in the quality of life; this suggests the necessity of preclinical studies to analyze the cellular pathways involved in insulin-independent gluconeogenesis.

Learning points

  • Effect of somatostatin analogs is long-lasting in the control of functioning NE tumors.

  • Persistent everolimus control of hypoglycemia despite serum insulin levels and disease progression.

  • Open issue: are disease progression and the increase in serum markers the only valid criteria to reject a treatment?