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Pancreatic Cancer

Pancreatic cancer is an aggressive form of cancer that develops in the tissues of the pancreas. Located in the abdomen behind the lower part of the stomach, the pancreas aids in digestion.

It contains both exocrine glands (which produce enzymes that help the body digest food) and endocrine glands (which produce hormones, including insulin, that help control blood sugar levels in the body).

Pancreatic cancer types

Every pancreatic cancer patient is different. Our cancer experts have extensive experience in properly staging and diagnosing the disease, and developing a treatment plan that’s tailored to your specific type of pancreatic cancer.

Types of pancreatic cancer

There are two types of pancreatic cancer, that of the exocrine gland and that of the endocrine gland. About 95 percent of pancreatic cancers begin in the exocrine (enzyme-producing) cells of the pancreas.

  • Exocrine tumors: Most tumors affecting the exocrine gland are called adenocarcinomas. This type of cancer forms in the pancreas ducts. Treatment for these tumors is based on stage of growth.
  • Endocrine tumors: These tumors are less common and are most often benign. Though rare, cancer stemming from a pancreatic endocrine tumor (PET) affects the hormone-producing cells. These tumors are also called islet cell tumors or neurendocrine tumors.

Pancreatic cancer risk factors

The two functions of the pancreas—making enzymes and hormones—are possible because of two different types of cells: exocrine cells (which produce the digestive enzymes) and endocrine cells (which produce the hormones).

Cancer can develop in either of these cell types, but about 95 percent of pancreatic cancers begin in the exocrine cells. The risk factors, symptoms and treatment of each type of pancreatic tumor may be different because the affected cells behave differently.


  • Age (close to 90 percent of all pancreatic cancers are found in people age 55 and older)
  • Gender: For an unknown reason, men are somewhat more likely to develop pancreatic cancer than are women.
  • Obesity
  • Diabetes
  • Chronic pancreatitis
  • Cirrhosis of the liver
  • Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori) infection


  • Smoking cigarettes: Almost a third (20-30 percent) of all pancreatic cancers are linked to smoking cigarettes. Carcinogens (cancer-causing chemicals) found in tobacco products may damage the pancreas, and smoking may add to the risks associated with other conditions, like long-term inflammation of the pancreas (chronic pancreatitis). Likewise, the risk of diabetes and obesity may also be greater if an individual smokes.


About 10 percent of pancreatic cancers are thought to be related to genetic factors, meaning an inherited gene mutation is passed on from parents to their children. Although these genetic conditions do not directly cause pancreatic cancer, they may increase your risks for developing the disease.

Staging & grading pancreatic cancer

Once the test results are in, your doctor may assign one of the three pancreatic cancer stages to the disease:

  • Resectable: The tumor nodules can be removed.
  • Locally advanced: The cancer has spread to areas surrounding the pancreas, such as tissues or blood vessels.
  • Metastatic: The cancer resides in multiple organs.