The pancreas is an organ in the abdomen. The pancreas makes several enzymes and hormones, including the hormone insulin. Insulin's job is to reduce the level of sugar (glucose) in the blood by helping it move into cells.
Most of the time when your blood sugar level drops too low, the pancreas stops making insulin until your blood sugar returns to normal. Tumors of the pancreas that produce too much insulin are called insulinomas. Insulinomas keep making insulin, even when your blood sugar drops too low.
A high blood insulin level causes a low blood sugar level (hypoglycemia). Hypoglycemia may be mild, leading to symptoms such as anxiety and hunger. Or it can be severe, leading to seizures, coma, and even death.
Insulinomas are rare tumors. They usually occur as single, small tumors in adults.
These tumors are very rare in children. Most children with high blood insulin levels have many areas of overactive insulin-releasing cells in the pancreas, instead of a single tumor.
More than 90% of insulinomas are non-cancerous (benign) tumors. People with the genetic syndrome called multiple endocrine neoplasia type I are at risk of insulinomas and other endocrine tumors.