The pancreas is a large organ located behind the stomach. It makes and releases enzymes into the intestines that help the body absorb foods, especially fats.
Hormones called insulin and glucagon, which help your body control blood sugar levels, are made in special cells in the pancreas called islet cells. Tumors can also occur in these cells, but they are called islet cell tumors.
The exact cause of pancreatic cancer is unknown. It is more common in:
People with diabetes
People with long-term inflammation of the pancreas (chronic pancreatitis)
There are many different types of tumors that can develop in the pancreas. A pancreatic specialist can evaluate your tumor and determine which type of tumor is present in your pancreas. Approximately 85% patients have very aggressive type of tumor called adenocarcinoma of the pancreas. In about 15% of patients other tumors in the pancreas are found that are less aggressive types of tumors which are often curable. An evaluation in a center that is experienced in the treatment of pancreatic cancer is important for determining appropriate treatment for pancreatic tumors.
Adenocarcinoma is the form of cancer that most people are talking about when they refer to “cancer of the pancreas.” These tumors account for >75% of all pancreas cancers.
Microscopically, adenocarcinomas form glands (collections of cells surrounding an empty space.) These tumors can grow large enough to invade nerves which can cause back pain. They also frequently spread (metastasize) to the liver or lymph nodes. If this happens the tumor may be considered unresectable.