Pancreatic Cancer Overview
The pancreas is an organ in the upper abdomen located beneath the stomach and adjacent to the first portion of the small intestine, called the duodenum. The pancreas is composed of glands that are responsible for a wide variety of tasks. The glandular functions of the pancreas can be divided into the following two categories:
The pancreas can be divided into the following four anatomical sections:
Intraductal papillary mucinous neoplasia (IPMN) is a type of pancreatic cancer that is beginning to be recognized more frequently. This pancreatic cancer has a better prognosis than other types of pancreatic cancer. Intraductal papillary mucinous neoplasia is usually diagnosed endoscopically (see Pancreatic Cancer Diagnosis).
The most common type of pancreatic cancer arises from the exocrine glands and is called adenocarcinoma of the pancreas. The endocrine glands of the pancreas can give rise to a completely different type of cancer, referred to as pancreatic neuroendocrine carcinoma or islet cell tumor. This article only discusses issues related to the more common type of pancreatic adenocarcinoma.
Pancreatic adenocarcinoma is among the most aggressive of all cancers. By the time that pancreatic cancer is diagnosed, many people already have disease that has spread to distant sites in the body (about 53%). Pancreatic cancer is also relatively resistant to medical treatment, and the only potentially curative treatment is surgery. In 2010, approximately 43,000 people in the United States were diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, and approximately 36,000 people died of this disease. These numbers reflect the challenge in treating pancreatic cancer and the relative lack of curative options.
Timothy Kuo, MD
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