Pancreatic cancer is an aggressive form of cancer that develops in the cells of the pancreas. In 2020, an estimated 57,600 Americans will be diagnosed with cancer of the pancreas, according to the American Cancer Society. Each year, pancreatic cancer accounts for about 3 percent of all new cancer diagnoses and more than 7 percent of all cancer deaths in the United States.What causes cancer of the pancreas?
The pancreas is a small but powerful organ that sits in the abdomen below the liver and behind the lower half of the stomach. The cells in the pancreas have two primary functions: Exocrine cells produce enzymes that help the body digest food, and endocrine glands produce hormones, including insulin, that help control blood sugar.
Tumors form when damaged or mutated cells grow unchecked. Most cases of pancreatic cancer develop in exocrine cells. The exact cause of pancreatic cancer is not known, but several risk factors have been linked to the disease. They include:
Learn more about risk factors for pancreatic cancerWho gets cancer of the pancreas?
The National Cancer Institute (NCI) ranks pancreatic cancers as the 11th most common cancer in the United States. The risk of developing cancer of the pancreas increases significantly with age. According to the NCI:
Men are at a slightly higher risk of developing pancreatic cancer than women.
Learn more about survival statistics for pancreatic cancerTypes of pancreatic cancer
Exocrine cells, which make up most of the cells in the pancreas, are found in the glands and ducts of the organ. About 90 percent of all pancreatic cancers form in exocrine cells and are considered pancreatic adenocarcinomas. Adenocarcinomas are tumors that form in mucus-secreting glands. Adenocarcinomas are also prevalent among lung, prostate, esophageal and colorectal cancers.
About 5 percent of all pancreatic cancers form in endocrine cells and are considered neuroendocrine tumors (NETs) or pancreatic neuroendocrine tumors (PNETs). These types of pancreatic cancers are also called islet cell cancers, because endocrine cells often are found in clusters called islets. NETs are cancers that form in organs that produce hormones and may also be found in the gastrointestinal tract, lungs and adrenal glands.
Learn more about the types of pancreatic cancerPancreatic cancer symptoms
Early-stage pancreatic cancer may not produce symptoms. Common symptoms of pancreatic cancer include:
Learn more about symptoms for pancreatic cancerDiagnosing cancer of the pancreas
Tools and tests used to diagnose cancer of the pancreas include:
Learn more about diagnostic procedures for pancreatic cancerTreating pancreatic cancer
Treatment options for pancreatic cancer include:
Learn more about treatment options for pancreatic cancer
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