Pancreatic cancer accounts for about 3 percent of all cancers in the United States and 7 percent of all cancer deaths, according to the American Cancer Society (ACS). Nearly 50,000 individuals will be diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2015, according to ACS estimates. Pancreatic cancer is generally associated with a poor prognosis.
What is Pancreatic Cancer?
Pancreatic cancer is cancer that begins in the pancreas. The pancreas is an organ located behind the stomach and helps to aid digestion. The pancreas is mostly comprised of exocrine glands, which develop digestion-aiding enzymes, and ducts, which deliver enzyme to the small intestine. The pancreas also has endocrine cells, which produce and release important hormones into the blood. Endocrine cells comprise a small percentage of cells within the pancreas.
Types of Pancreatic Cancer
There are two types of pancreatic cancers: exocrine tumors and endocrine tumors.
Most pancreatic cancers are exocrine tumors. These are generally a type of cancer called pancreatic adenocarcinoma, which begins in the ducts. Other exocrine tumors include solid pseudopapillary neoplasm, ampullary cancer and less common types of cancer.
Endocrine tumors account for less than 5 percent of all pancreatic cancers. These originate in the hormone-producing cells of the pancreas and are gastrinomas, insulinomas, glaucagonomas, somatostatinomas, VIPomas and PPomas. These tumors are sometimes benign, although most are cancerous.
Pancreatic Cancer Treatments
Pancreatic cancers tend to spread quickly and are usually not detected until it has become too advanced for complete surgical removal. Once diagnosed, pancreatic cancer will be staged and graded to help inform treatment decisions. Treatment decisions will also depend on personal factors, such as age and overall health.
Pancreatic cancer treatment generally involves a combination of surgery, radiation therapy and chemotherapy. While curing the cancer is often the goal of pancreatic cancer treatment, managing pain and symptoms are often the main focus.