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Pancreatic Cancer


The pancreas serves two functions in the body. It produces digestive juices that help digest food, and hormones (such as insulin) that regulate how the body stores and uses food.

The area of the pancreas that produces digestive juices is called the exocrine pancreas. These juices contain enzymes that break down fats and proteins in the diet so the nutrients can be absorbed by the small intestine and used by the body to repair tissues or grow. The exocrine ducts that carry this pancreatic juice to the common bile duct and eventually to the small intestine.

A small percentage of the cells in the pancreas are endocrine cells. These cells are arranged in small clusters called islets. The islet cells release two hormones, insulin and glucagon, that are important in controlling the amount of sugar in the blood.

About 95% of pancreatic cancers begin in the exocrine pancreas. There are several types of tumors that can develop in the exocrine pancreas. Tumors of the endocrine pancreas are much less common.

The American Cancer Society estimates that 28,3000 Americans will be diagnosed with cancer of the pancreas in the year 2000.

Treatment of pancreatic cancer usually consists of a combination of surgery, radiation, chemotherapy, hormone therapy, and hepatic arterial occlusion.

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