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Malignant cancer is a tumor (or growth) in which an aggregation of individual cells begins to grow in a rapid, uncontrolled and abnormal manner; and which may spread by aggressive local extension or by the seeding of other organs through blood vessel channels or via the lymphatic system. There also exist benign tumors which tend to be (but are not always) less serious, which tend to grow more slowly and orderly, and which tend not to spread by colonizing into other parts of the body (this process known as metastasis). Cancer can arise from virtually any kind of cell in the body.
In up to 95% of cases, pancreatic cancer arises from the exocrine portion of the organ. The least common exocrine pancreatic cancer comes from acinar cells. Most of the exocrine tumors (~90%) are from ductal cells–those which line the pancreatic ducts. These tumors are classified as carcinomas, a word that refers to tumors arising from a lining cell. Further, under the microscope, the appearance and arrangement of these carcinoma cells can appear as duct-like (or “adeno”) giving the term adenocarcinoma to this most common form of pancreatic cancer.
About three-quarters of exocrine pancreatic cancer arises in the head and neck of the pancreas (the anatomic parts through which the pancreatic duct runs just before it meets the duodenum). Some of these carcinomas arise in the body of the pancreatic organ, and less than ten percent arise in the tail of the pancreas (the tapering smaller “left” area, closest to the spleen).
Pancreatic cancer is one of the most aggressive cancers, one of the most non-responsive to treatment, and one of the hardest to diagnose.
Pancreatic cancer is the 4th leading cause of cancer death in the United States. It’s estimated that over 50,000 new cases are diagnosed each year and over 40,000 people die because of this disease annually.
The lifetime risk of developing the disease is 1.6%. The risk is about the same for men and women and the typical range of age at the time of diagnosis is between 65-74 years old.
James Abbruzzese, MD Chief, Medical Oncology Duke University
Markus Büchler, MD Chairman, Surgery Heidelberg University, Germany
Ralph Hruban, MD Director, GI / Liver Pathology Johns Hopkins University
Eileen O’Reilly, MD Associate Director for Clinical Research – Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center
Margaret Tempero, MD Chief, Medical Oncology University of California at San Francisco
Pancreatic cancer is a serious disease. Taking an aggressive rational stance at the earliest possible time, supported by the best medical team, and treated in the most appropriate manner gives the best chance for survival.
We believe in strong patient-physician bonds, scientifically-based treatment, and that comfort can come from knowing that everything that reasonably can be done – is being done.
That the best approach is meeting cancer of the pancreas head-on and armed with the best available information.