• Clinical science

Gastrinoma (Zollinger-Ellison syndrome)


A gastrinoma (Zollinger-Ellison syndrome) is a gastrin-secreting neuroendocrine tumor that is most often localized to the duodenum and pancreas. Most gastrinomas occur sporadically, but some are associated with other endocrine neoplasias (e.g., pituitary adenomas, parathyroid adenomas, insulinomas). Although some gastrinomas are benign, more than half of all gastrinomas are malignant. Gastrinomas release high levels of gastrin, which then increases the production of gastric acid. Patients typically present with recurrent, therapy-resistant peptic ulcer disease and diarrhea. Patients with gastrinomas have low gastric pH and elevated serum gastrin. Furthermore, serum gastrin levels increase with the administration of secretin (positive secretin stimulation test). Surgical resection of the tumor is indicated in patients with localized disease. Proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) and octreotide may be used to control acid secretion.


  • Sex: > (2:1)
  • Age of onset: 30–50 years


Epidemiological data refers to the US, unless otherwise specified.





Clinical features

Most patients manifest with recurrent, therapy-resistant peptic ulcer disease.



  • Best initial test: esophagogastroduodenoscopy
    • Important to rule out H. pylori infection and malignant ulcers
    • Typically reveals multiple ulcers and thick gastric folds
    • ↓ Gastric pH
  • Confirmatory tests
    • ↑ Serum gastrin (in a fasting serum sample)
      • A gastrin level > 1000 pg/mL (or 10-fold increase in gastrin levels) is conclusive evidence of a gastrinoma.
      • If serum gastrin levels increase (> 100 pg/mL) but are not more than 1000 pg/mL, a secretin stimulation test should be performed.
    • Secretin stimulation test (if fasting serum gastrin test is inconclusive)
      • A two-fold increase in gastrin above the basal level is indicative of a gastrinoma.
      • No increase or only a very slight increase is observed in cases of secondary hypergastrinemia.
  • Imaging: only after diagnosis is confirmed to localize the tumor

The presence of multiple, large (> 2 cm) ulcers in atypical locations (e.g., the jejunum) should raise suspicion of gastrinoma!

Low gastric pH along with gastrin levels > 1000 pg/mL is virtually sufficient to diagnose gastrinoma. If gastrin levels are less than 1000 pg/mL, a secretin stimulation test must be performed!



In approximately 50% of cases, the tumor has already metastasized at the time of diagnosis!


last updated 04/01/2020
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