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Summary

Objective  Glucagonoma is a pancreatic neuroendocrine tumour that arises from alpha cells in the pancreas and is often accompanied by a characteristic clinical syndrome.

Design  In this report, we present the cumulative experience and clinical characteristics of six patients diagnosed with glucagonoma and the glucagonoma syndrome and treated at our centre during the past 25 years.

Results  Although the course of the disease was variable, some features were similar. The median age at diagnosis was 53·5 years; the median time from onset of symptoms to diagnosis was 39 months. Presenting symptoms were as follows: weight loss 5/6 (83%), necrotizing migratory erythema (NME) 5/6 (83%), diabetes mellitus 4/6 (66%) and diarrhoea, weakness and thrombosis 2/6 (33%). Plasma glucagon was elevated in all patients upon diagnosis (range 200–10 000 pm; N < 50). Skin biopsy was diagnostic only in 1/6 specimens obtained, even after revision. Metastatic disease developed in all patients; 4/6 initially presented with hepatic metastasis. All patient symptoms responded to somatostatin analogue therapy. In 4/6, the NME responded to amino acid solutions. Other modes of therapy were as follows: surgery in 3/6 patients, peptide receptor radioligand therapy with 90Y-DOTATOC (PRRT) in 3/6 patients (two responses) and chemotherapy in three patients (two responded). Four out of six patients died of the disease, and median survival time was 6·25 years (range 2–11) from diagnosis and 8 years (range 8–16) from initial symptoms. Five-year survival was 66%.

Conclusion  Our data indicate that somatostatin analogues and an aggressive surgical approach offer symptom relief and tumour control. Among other available treatment modalities, PRRT seems to hold the most promise.