Background and methods: The role of surgery in patients with the Zollinger-Ellison syndrome is controversial. To determine the efficacy of surgery in patients with this syndrome, we followed 151 consecutive patients who underwent laparotomy between 1981 and 1998. Of these patients, 123 had sporadic gastrinomas and 28 had multiple endocrine neoplasia type 1 with an imaged tumor of at least 3 cm in diameter. Tumor-localization studies and functional localization studies were performed routinely. All patients underwent surgery according to a similar operative protocol, and all patients who had surgery after 1986 underwent duodenotomy.
Results: The 151 patients underwent 180 exploratory operations. The mean (+/-SD) follow-up after the first operation was 8+/-4 years. Gastrinomas were found in 141 of the patients (93 percent), including all of the last 81 patients to undergo surgery. The tumors were located in the duodenum in 74 patients (49 percent) and in the pancreas in 36 patients (24 percent); however, primary tumors were found in lymph nodes in 17 patients (11 percent) and in another location in 13 patients (9 percent). The primary location was unknown in 24 patients (16 percent). Among the patients with sporadic gastrinomas, 34 percent were free of disease at 10 years, as compared with none of the patients with multiple endocrine neoplasia type 1. The overall 10-year survival rate was 94 percent.
Conclusions: All patients with the Zollinger-Ellison syndrome who do not have multiple endocrine neoplasia type 1 or metastatic disease should be offered surgical exploration for possible cure.