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Pancreatic Cancer Types & Information

Our Approach

Gauri Varadhachary, M.D. has years of experience in treating pancreatic cancer with chemotherapy and surgery.

At MD Anderson's Gastrointestinal Center, your treatment for pancreatic cancer is customized carefully to provide the most advanced therapies with the least impact on your body. You are the focus of personalized care that brings together the most-advanced techniques and technologies and some of the nation's top pancreatic cancer professionals.

Your personal team of experts, which includes oncologists, surgeons, radiologists, gastroenterologists and a specially trained support staff, communicate closely about your care for pancreatic cancer. As an important part of the care team, you are involved in every decision.

As one of the nation's largest cancer centers, we are able to offer a variety of innovative treatments, including proton therapy and targeted therapies that help your body fight pancreatic cancer.

Groundbreaking Research

We have pioneered several advances in pancreatic cancer, including:

  • Neoadjuvant chemotherapy (given before surgery) to shrink the tumor and allow it to be removed surgically with less damage to normal tissue
  • Gemcitabine, which now is standard treatment around the world
  • Discovery of the genetic causes of pancreatic cancer

MD Anderson is leading research into ways to treat and prevent pancreatic cancer. This means we are able to offer a wide range of clinical trials for new treatment.
And at MD Anderson you're surrounded by the strength of one of the nation's largest and most experienced comprehensive cancer centers, which has all the support and wellness services needed to treat the whole person – not just the disease.

If you have been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, we're here to help. Call 1-877-632-6789 to make an appointment or request an appointment online.

Why Choose MD Anderson?

  • Leading-edge pancreatic cancer treatments including targeted therapies, proton therapy and specialized surgical procedures
  • Some of the nation’s most skilled and experienced pancreatic cancer surgeons
  • Advanced diagnostic methods, including endoscopic ultrasound and the latest, most-precise CT scan technology
  • Nationally recognized research program with clinical trials of new treatments for pancreatic cancer, including gene therapy, including tumor suppressor genes, targeted therapies and drugs that target epidermal growth factor.

Pancreatic Cancer Knowledge Center

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Gordon Hendrickson

"I have found that those who catch the cancer early have the best chance of a good outcome."

Pancreatic Cancer Survivor Gordon Hendrickson

Pancreatic Cancer Facts

Pancreatic cancer accounts for only 2% of cancers diagnosed in the United States each year; however, it is the fifth leading cause of cancer death in this country. According to the American Cancer Society's most recent estimates for pancreatic cancer in the United States, more than:

  • 42,000 cases are diagnosed each year
  • 35,000 people die because of the disease

The lifetime risk of having pancreatic cancer is about 1 in 72. It is about the same for men and women. The risk increases with age, and most cases are diagnosed between 60 and 80 years old. Pancreatic cancer usually has few, if any, signs or symptoms in the early stages when it would be most treatable.

The pancreas is a spongy, oblong organ about 6 inches long and 2 inches wide. It is located behind the lower part of the stomach, between the stomach and the spine. The pancreas is important because it makes insulin and other hormones that help the body absorb sugar and control blood sugar, and produces juices that aid in digestion. 

Pancreatic Cancer Types

The pancreas contains two main types of cells:

  • Exocrine cells, which make digestive juices
  • Endocrine cells, which produce hormones

Almost all pancreatic cancers start in exocrine cells. These cells line the pancreatic duct (duct cells), through which pancreatic juices with digestive enzymes flow.

Adenocarcinoma is cancer of the exocrine cells. It accounts for 95% of pancreatic cancers.

Islet cell carcinoma involves endocrine cells. Most islet cell tumors are malignant, but some are benign, such as insulin-producing islet cell tumors. Tumors can be:

  • Functional and produce abnormally high amounts of hormones
  • Non-functional and produce no hormones

Pancreaticoblastoma is very rare. This type of pancreatic cancer is found mostly in young children.

Isolated sarcomas and lymphomas can occur in the pancreas. These are very rare.

Pseudopapillary neoplasms occur mostly in young women in their teens and 20s.

Ampullary cancer: This rare type of exocrine tumor begins where the bile duct (from the liver) and the pancreatic duct join with the small intestine. Since it causes yellowing of the skin and eyes, it may be found earlier than other types of pancreatic cancer.

© 2015 The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center