What Is Pancreatic Cancer?

Pancreatic cancer develops in the cells of the pancreas, the abdominal gland that makes digestive enzymes and insulin. Pancreatic cancer forms when cells in the pancreas change and multiply abnormally, forming tumors. This cancer can interfere with the function of the pancreas and may spread nearby organs (metastasis). The more cancer spreads, the harder it is to treat.

Pancreatic cancer is the fourth most common cause of cancer related deaths in men and women in the United States. Symptoms of pancreatic cancer vary based on the type and can mimic other conditions. Types of pancreatic cancer include:

  • Adenocarcinoma of the pancreas: The most common pancreatic cancer, which occurs in the lining of the pancreatic duct.
  • Adenosquamous carcinoma: A rare form of pancreatic cancer that affects both the squamous cells and gland-like cells.
  • Squamous cell carcinoma: A rare form of pancreatic cancer that is characterized by abnormal squamous cell growth.
  • Islet cell carcinoma: A fairly rare cancer that's associated with a rare genetic disorder known as multiple endocrine neoplasia type 1 syndrome (MEN1 syndrome). There are several types of islet cell carcinoma:
    • Gastrinoma: Cancer that forms in the cells that produce gastrin, a hormone that aids the digestion of food.
    • Insulinoma: Cancer that forms in the cells that produce insulin, which controls the amount of glucose in the bloodstream.
    • Glucagonoma: Cancer in the cells that produce glucagon, which increases the amount of glucose present in the bloodstream.
    • VIPomas, somatostatinomas and others: Cancer in the cells that produce hormones that control the balance of water, sugar and salt in your body. These types of islet cell tumors are often grouped together because they are treated in much the same way.