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African-American Patient Guide
Educational Module

What is PANCREATIC cancer?

(2 of 12 sections)
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Cancer that starts (or is found) in the pancreas is typically called pancreatic cancer. The pancreas is a small organ that is located behind the stomach on the left side of the body. It is involved in many systems in our body.

The pancreas is an important part of the digestive system, which helps our bodies get energy from food.

The pancreas also releases hormones, which are like chemical messages. Hormones are released from cells and allow different parts of the body to communicate with each other.

Around 60,000 new cases of pancreatic cancer occur in the United States each year. Usually, cancer in the pancreas starts in the part that helps digest food. This part includes the cells that line the duct that leads out of the pancreas to the intestines. The type of cancer that forms in the duct of the pancreas is called ductal adenocarcinoma. This is the most common form of cancer in the pancreas (about 85%).

Some cancers in the pancreas are found in the part that makes and releases hormones. For this reason, tumors that are formed in these cells are called neuroendocrine tumors. About 12,000 new cases are found in the U.S. each year, but the actual number of cases might be much higher.

Cancer of the pancreas can spread to different parts of the body. Common places that these tumors spread to are the lungs, liver, and other areas.

Pancreatic cancer is usually a more aggressive form of cancer than other types. People tend to only start to notice symptoms after the cancer has already spread.

There are many types of pancreatic cancer. We talked about the most common forms in this section.

Written by: Jasmine Mitchell, University of California Santa Barbara

Edited by: Dale O’Brien, MD, Cancer Patients Alliance

Formatting and content by: Raewyn O’Haire, AB, Cancer Patients Alliance

Consultant: Neil Atam, University of California Santa Barbara

Top Reference

Pancreatic resection: a key component to reducing racial disparities in pancreatic adenocarcinoma
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Click Here for the ACS Journal article