What is Pancreatic Cancer?
The pancreas lies behind the stomach and in front of the spine. There are two kinds of cells in the pancreas, exocrine cells, and neuroendocrine cells. Exocrine pancreas cells make enzymes that are released into the small intestine to help the body digest food. Neuroendocrine pancreas cells (such as islet cells) make several hormones, including insulin and glucagon, that help control sugar levels in the blood.
There are two types of pancreatic cancers; however, most often pancreatic cancer starts in the ducts that carry pancreatic digestive juices, which are the exocrine cells. This disease type is called exocrine pancreatic cancer and is the most common pancreatic cancer diagnosis. The information on our website will focus on this type of pancreatic cancer.
Much less often, pancreatic cancer begins in the cells that make hormones. This type may be called neuroendocrine pancreatic cancer or islet cell cancer.
While pancreatic cancer is not the most common type of cancer, each year in the United States, more than 43,000 people are diagnosed with cancer of the pancreas. Most are over 65 years old, and smoking or hereditary conditions can affect your risk for pancreatic cancer as well. Maryland Oncology Hematology physicians are available to speak with about your hereditary and genetic risks for pancreatic cancer. Exocrine pancreatic cancer is difficult to detect or diagnose early; therefore, current pancreatic cancer treatments do not cure the disease for most patients. It is important to be aware of the signs and symptoms of pancreatic cancers so you are able to seek medical attention as early as possible.
You can review other important information about diagnosing pancreatic cancer, staging the disease, and pancreatic cancer treatment options on our website; you can visit the National Cancer Institute where this information and more can be found about pancreatic cancer, or ask your Maryland Oncology Hematology cancer care team questions about your individual situation.