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Pancreatic cancer

The pancreas is a glandular organ, measuring about 6 inches long, that lies behind the stomach and in front of the spine. It has two main functions:

  1. Exocrine cells produce enzymes that help break down and digest food in the small intestine.
  2. Endocrine cells produce hormones, such as insulin and glucagon, that regulate blood sugar levels and are critical for the maintenance of tissues and organs.

Pancreatic cancer is the result of malignant cells appearing within the organ. It is estimated that 60,430 new cases of the disease will be diagnosed in the United States in 2021. Approximately 95% of pancreatic cancers begin in ductal cells and are known as pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma (PDAC). Most of the remaining 5% of pancreatic tumors begin in endocrine cells and are known as pancreatic neuroendocrine tumors (PNET). Patients with PNETs are typically younger at diagnosis and have a better prognosis. PNET and PDAC have different symptoms and risk factors.


Reference

American Cancer Society. Cancer Facts and Figures 2021.
Available at American Cancer Society (pdf).