What Is Pancreatic Cancer?

Anatomy of the pancreas

The pancreas has three areas: head, body, and tail. It is found in the abdomen near the stomach, intestines, and other organs.

The pancreas is a gland that produces juices that help digest food and hormones—such as insulin and glucagon—to help control blood sugar levels. Both of these hormones help the body use and store the energy it gets from food. Exocrine pancreas cells produce the digestive juices, and endocrine pancreas cells produce the hormones. Pancreatic cancer occurs when malignant cells grow out of control. About 95% of pancreatic cancers begin in exocrine cells.

Pancreatic cancer is now the fourth leading cause of cancer death, according to the American Cancer Society. There will be an estimated 46,420 new pancreatic cancer cases in 2014, with the majority occurring in people 60 years of age or older.

Although the majority (approximately 95%) of pancreatic tumors are composed of adenocarcinomas, other types of tumors such as pancreatic lymphomas have a much more favorable prognosis. Other types of rare pancreatic tumors include cystadenocarcinomas and acinar cell carcinoma.

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