Pancreatic cancer overview
Pancreatic cancer is cancer than begins in the pancreas.
The pancreas is part of the body's digestive system that also releases hormones into the blood, including insulin that helps control blood sugar levels.
Pancreatic cancer tumours may not cause any symptoms in the early stages.
Pancreatic cancer facts
Around 9,400 people are diagnosed with pancreatic cancer each year in the UK.
Pancreatic cancer is one of the more rare cancers, its tendency to spread before detection makes it particularly deadly - with a less than 1% chance of surviving the cancer for more than 10 years after being diagnosed.
Most people diagnosed with cancer of the pancreas are over 60. Men tend to be more often affected than women.
Pancreatic cancer symptoms
Symptoms of pancreatic cancer include:
Types of pancreatic cancer
Doctors will classify pancreatic cancer tumours by the place they are found in the pancreas - such as the head of the pancreas - and more specific locations in that area.
Exocrine pancreatic cancer is the most common type - and starts in cells in the exocrine system that make digestive juices.
Of these, most are adenocarcinomas affecting cells lining ducts in the pancreas.
Rarer types are:
Cystic tumours - causing a cyst or sac of fluid to develop - which may be benign (not cancer).
Acinar cell cancer - which affects the ends of the ducts and can be slower to grow.
Endocrine pancreatic tumours are not common and develop in the endocrine pancreas that releases insulin and other hormones into the blood. These may also be called pancreatic neuroendocrine tumours (PNETS) or islet cell tumours.
Some of these can cause symptoms, some are benign. These are named after the hormone they produce and include:
Pancreatoblastoma is very rare and usually affects children, often with certain genetic conditions.
Sarcomas of the pancreas are extremely rare and affect connective tissue in the pancreas.
Lymphoma cancer can appear anywhere in the body's lymphatic system, including the pancreas.
Causes of pancreatic cancer
It isn't fully understood why pancreatic cancer develops in some people - but doctors do know there are some 'risk factors' that can affect a person's chances of developing it. These include:
- Being older
- Being male
- Having had other cancers, radiotherapy cancer treatment
- Having a close family history of pancreatic cancer, inherited genes
- Having diabetes, which is linked to the pancreas and insulin
- Having gum disease and the bacteria involved
- Having hepatitis B
- Having long-term (chronic) inflammation of the pancreas, including from alcohol abuse
- Having hereditary pancreatitis causing inflammation
- Having a stomach ulcer
- Having operations to remove part of the stomach
- Having Helicobacter pylori infection causing stomach ulcers
- Eating lots of red meat
- Being overweight and not doing enough exercise.