Diagnosis and treatment of Zollinger-Ellison syndrome

Baillieres Clin Gastroenterol. 1988 Jul;2(3):677-98. doi: 10.1016/s0950-3528(88)80013-7.


A diagnostic and therapeutic strategy for the management of patients with Zollinger-Ellison syndrome has been developed, based on the review of a large personal experience and the most recent literature. The mainstay of a modern ZES management is the eradication of tumoral processes whenever feasible. Diagnosis is centred upon gastric acid and gastrin secretion measurements both in basal conditions and on secretin stimulation. Recognition of other endocrine involvement and familial inheritance is of the utmost importance in distinguishing sporadic ZES patients from those who have the condition known as multiple endocrine neoplasia type I. Blood calcium and phosphorus levels, parathyroid hormone concentration, combined if necessary with urinary cyclic AMP excretion measurement, should be performed routinely once ZES diagnosis is established or highly suspected. Localization of the tumour is the next essential step, and this has been considerably facilitated by the recent development in imaging techniques: it involves computerized axial tomography and selective abdominal angiography, a combination of which allows tumour detection in 60-70% of sporadic gastrinoma patients, with a maximal sensitivity for well-developed hepatic metastases. In sporadic ZES exploratory laparotomy is legitimate when preoperative localization of the tumour has failed; this laparotomy will allow further detection and then eradication of gastrinomas in a significant number of patients. Control of gastric acid secretion is mandatory throughout the work-up period; modern antisecretory agents are efficacious in most cases; total gastrectomy, when control of acid hypersecretion has failed, is now exceptional. Eradication of the tumour should be attempted in cases of sporadic ZES in the absence of recognizable liver involvement. The chance of a definite cure provided by surgery when performed by an experienced surgeon varies from 20% to 60% in pancreatic and ectopic gastrinomas respectively. In ZES patients with MEN I, exploratory laparotomy is seldom indicated (other than for symptomatic associated endocrine secretion), as the chance of a definite cure by surgery is very rare. Parathyroid surgery is often indicated and should take place before any form of abdominal surgery. In cases of hepatic metastases, chemotherapy with streptozocin and fluorouracil is indicated and soon, perhaps, chemo-embolization.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Anti-Ulcer Agents / therapeutic use
  • Gastrectomy
  • Gastric Acid / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Liver Neoplasms / secondary
  • Zollinger-Ellison Syndrome* / diagnosis
  • Zollinger-Ellison Syndrome* / therapy


  • Anti-Ulcer Agents