Pancreatic Cancer Information

What is Pancreatic Cancer?

To understand the following pancreatic cancer information, it’s helpful to first learn about the pancreas. The pancreas is located in the abdomen. It is surrounded by the stomach, intestines, and other organs. The pancreas is about 6 inches long and is shaped like a long, flattened pear--wide at one end and narrow at the other. The wide part of the pancreas is called the head, the narrow end is the tail, and the middle section is called the body of the pancreas.

The pancreas is a gland that has two main functions. It makes pancreatic juices, and it produces several hormones, including insulin. Pancreatic juices contain proteins called enzymes that help digest food. The pancreas releases these juices, as they are needed, into a system of ducts. The main pancreatic duct joins the common bile duct from the liver and gallbladder. (The common bile duct carries bile, a fluid that helps digest fat.) Together these ducts form a short tube that empties into the duodenum, the first section of the small intestine.

Pancreatic hormones help the body use or store the energy that comes from food. For example, insulin helps control the amount of sugar (a source of energy) in the blood. The pancreas releases insulin and other hormones when they are needed. The hormones enter the bloodstream and travel throughout the body.

Cancer of the pancreas is also called pancreatic cancer or carcinoma of the pancreas. Most pancreatic cancers begin in the ducts that carry pancreatic juices. A rare type of pancreatic cancer begins in the cells that produce insulin and other hormones. These cells are called islet cells, or the islets of Langerhans. Pancreatic cancers that begin in these cells are called islet cell cancers.

As pancreatic cancer grows, the tumor may invade organs that surround the pancreas, such as the stomach or small intestine. Pancreatic cancer cells also may break away from the tumor and spread to other parts of the body. When pancreatic cancer cells spread, they often form new tumors in lymph nodes and the liver, and sometimes in the lungs or bones. The new tumors have the same kind of abnormal cells and the same name as the primary (original) tumor in the pancreas. For example, if pancreatic cancer spreads to the liver, the cancer cells in the liver are pancreatic cancer cells. The disease is metastatic pancreatic cancer; it is not liver cancer.

If you are interested in learning more about pancreatic cancer, the possible symptoms, and some of the treatment options available, please take some time to browse through our site.

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