Pancreatic cancer is a disease that begins in one of your digestive organs, the pancreas.
It is located just behind the stomach.
Your pancreas is made up of a head, body, and tail.
It contains two main cell types.
One type, called exocrine cells, produce digestive enzymes that are secreted into tubes called ducts.
The enzymes, traveling through ducts, eventually empty into your small intestine, where they aid in digestion.
The other type of pancreatic cell is called an endocrine cell.
Endocrine cells are clustered into groups known as the Islets of Langerhans.
These cells produce the hormones insulin and glucagon,
which are released into the bloodstream to help control your blood sugar level.
Pancreatic cancer starts as mutations of pancreatic cells, causing them to grow very quickly and uncontrollably.
The mutated cells will often clump together to form tumors, which can interfere with the normal pancreas function.
Like this tumor, most pancreatic cancers form in the ducts and are called adenocarcinomas, or exocrine tumors.
Endocrine tumors, which develop from Islets of Langerhans, are much less common.
Your doctor will recommend treatment based on the type of cell involved, location and stage of your cancer.
Treatment may include surgery, radiation, chemotherapy, targeted therapy, or a combination of treatments.
There are three surgical options to treat pancreatic cancer.
During a Whipple procedure, also called a pancreatoduodenectomy, your surgeon will remove the head of your pancreas, your gallbladder,
and portions of your common bile duct, small intestine, and stomach.
The remaining structures will be arranged in such a way to allow continued digestion.
In a total pancreatectomy, your surgeon will remove your entire pancreas, common bile duct, gallbladder, spleen,
and surrounding lymph nodes, as well as portions of your stomach and small intestine.
During a distal pancreatectomy, your surgeon will remove the body and tail of the pancreas as well as your spleen.
Radiation, or radiotherapy, uses high-energy rays to kill cancer cells in the treated area only.
If the radiation originates from a machine outside your body, the treatment is called external beam radiation therapy.
Radiation therapy placed inside your body in the form of radioactive pellets is called brachytherapy, or internal radiation therapy.
Chemotherapy uses drugs to stop the progression of cancer by either killing the cells or preventing further growth.
Systemic chemotherapy is taken by mouth or an injection,
allowing the drugs to travel through the bloodstream to reach cancer cells throughout the body.
Regional chemotherapy involves the injection of the drug into the arteries surrounding the tumor, allowing immediate delivery to the cancer cells.
Targeted therapies focus on specific abnormalities of cancer cells.
One targeted therapy, erlotinib, is thought to stop tumor growth by blocking chemical signals that initiate cell growth and division.