Pancreatic cancer accounts for 3% of all cancers diagnosed in the US each year. In 2017, it will affect over 53,000 people and over 43,000 will die of this disease. The pancreas is located behind the stomach and consists of 3 main parts: the head, the body and the tail. It is composed of two different types of cells, both of which can become cancerous:
- Exocrine cells (ductal and acinar cells), which secrete digestive enzymes, water and other key chemicals into intestines.
- Endocrine cells (islets of Langerhans), which secrete important hormones, such as insulin and glucagon, into blood to help control sugar levels.
Exocrine tumors are the most common types of pancreatic cancer and consist primarily of adenocarcinomas (95% cases). Endocrine tumors, also called neuroendocrine tumors, can be benign (noncancerous) or malignant (cancerous) and are less common, making up less than 5% of all pancreatic cancers.
Pancreatic cancer is hard to detect early due to pancreas location deep inside the body, and a general absence of symptoms until the cancer has already spread to other organs.