Cancer InDepth: Pancreatic Cancer
Michael Jubinville, MPH
Cancer is a disease in which cells grow in an abnormal way. Normally, the cells divide in a controlled manner. If cells keep dividing when new cells are not needed, a tumor forms.
A tumor can be benign or malignant. A benign tumor is not cancer. It will not spread to other parts of the body. A malignant tumor is cancer. Cancer cells spread and cause damage around them. They can also enter the lymph and blood streams. This makes it easier to spread cancer to other parts of the body.
Normal Anatomy and the Development of Pancreatic Cancer
The pancreas sits behind and to the right of the stomach. It's near the liver, gallbladder, and intestines. The pancreas is part of the digestive system. It plays a central role in breaking down food so it can be used by the body for energy.
There are 3 parts:
The pancreas is made up of 2 types of cells. These are the endocrine and exocrine. The endocrine, or islet cells, make many hormones. Hormones enter the bloodstream and travel throughout the body. They help control many functions, and balance how the body works. The pancreas makes insulin. Insulin breaks down and uses or stores sugars from food.
The exocrine cells make digestive juices. These juices help break down food in the small intestine. They travel from the pancreas through a system of ducts. These digestive juices help break down fat, protein, and carbohydrates in food.
Tumors can cause blocks. If digestive juices or insulin are blocked, you may not get enough nutrition even when eating as you should. If the tumor grows beyond the pancreas, the cancer can pass into nearby structures. The cancer can interfere with how they work as well. The cancer can also spread to lymph nodes or blood vessels. When it does, it spreads to other parts of the body. The most common sites are the lining of the belly, liver, and lungs.
Types of Pancreatic Cancer
There are many types of pancreatic cancer. They're based the cell type and where the cancer starts. The types are:
This fact sheet is about ductal adenocarcinoma.
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Pancreatic cancer. Merck Manual Professional Version website. Available at: https://www.merckmanuals.com/professional/gastrointestinal-disorders/tumors-of-the-gi-tract/pancreatic-cancer. Updated October 2017. Accessed October 23, 2018.
What is pancreatic cancer? American Cancer Society website. Available at: https://www.cancer.org/cancer/pancreatic-cancer/about/what-is-pancreatic-cancer.html. Updated May 31, 2016. Accessed October 23, 2018.
Last reviewed September 2018 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Mohei Abouzied, MD, FACP
Last Updated: 10/23/2018
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