What is pancreatic cancer?
Pancreatic cancer is an aggressive form of cancer that develops in the tissues of the pancreas. Located in the abdomen behind the lower part of the stomach, the pancreas aids in digestion.
It contains both exocrine glands (which produce enzymes that help the body digest food) and endocrine glands (which produce hormones, including insulin, that help control blood sugar levels in the body).
Types of pancreatic cancer
There are two types of pancreatic cancer, that of the exocrine gland and that of the endocrine gland. About 95 percent of pancreatic cancers begin in the exocrine (enzyme-producing) cells of the pancreas.
Exocrine tumors: Most tumors affecting the exocrine gland are called adenocarcinomas. This type of cancer forms in the pancreas ducts. Treatment for these tumors is based on stage of growth.
Endocrine tumors: These tumors are less common and are most often benign. Though rare, cancer stemming from a pancreatic endocrine tumor (PET) affects the hormone-producing cells. These tumors are also called islet cell tumors or neuroendocrine tumors.
Pancreatic cancer symptoms
The pancreas sits behind the stomach, deep within the digestive system. The function and location of the pancreas can make cancer difficult to detect, particularly in the early stages of the disease. And, the symptoms of pancreatic cancer may differ depending on the type of cell affected.
Exocrine pancreatic cancers (occurring in the cells responsible for producing the digestive enzymes) may reduce the body's ability to take up nutrients. Pancreatic neuroendocrine tumors (PET or islet cell tumors) may lead to the over-production of certain hormones, leading to a variety of other endocrine-related syndromes. The majority of pancreatic cancers develop in the exocrine cells (the cells that produce the enzymes or "digestive juices" that help break down proteins, fats and starches). These enzymes are necessary for digestion.
Pancreatic cancer risk factors
The two functions of the pancreas—making enzymes and hormones—are possible because of two different types of cells: exocrine cells (which produce the digestive enzymes) and endocrine cells (which produce the hormones).
Cancer can develop in either of these cell types, but about 95 percent of pancreatic cancers begin in the exocrine cells. The risk factors, symptoms and treatment of each type of pancreatic tumor may be different because the affected cells behave differently.
Age (close to 90 percent of all pancreatic cancer are found in people age 55 and older)
Gender: For an unknown reason, men are somewhat more likely to develop pancreatic cancer than are women.
Cirrhosis of the liver
Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori) infection
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